Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Diana Scully


The essential socio-political question abortion raises is twofold: within whose legitimate province is the abortion decision to be made and what are the salient factors in determining subsequent resolutions over access. The answers speak to perceptions of legitimate authority, which are fundamental to the social construction of abortion.

The disparate literature on abortion was examined to develop a typology of perspectives on abortion. Theories from feminist sociology and social psychology were employed to examine the impact abortion access and the subsequent negotiation over legitimate authority have on the social order. The underlying hypothesis of this research is that abortion is socially constructed through competing perspectives’ delineation of authority. Three perspectives on abortion were culled from the literature on abortion rights to create an index of attitudes: Feminist, Traditional, and Population Control. Coupling this index with a measure of attitudes toward access to legal abortion and a measure of the consignment of legitimate authority to women, an overall typology of abortion attitudes was hypothesized. The research questions at hand were: 1) Do attitudes concerning abortion access support an index of attitudes; Feminist, Traditional and Population Control; and, to further construct the typology, 2) where does each perspective locate the authority to make the abortion decision?

This study was designed to explore the definition of abortion, as delineated above, by men and women entering adulthood under liberalized abortion and contraceptive laws. In order to uncover the social construction of abortion, this study focused on the audience of the rhetorical debate over abortion, instead of the activists as is done in most of the literature on abortion attitudes. A seven page questionnaire was administered to a nonprobability sample consisting of 397 undergraduate students at a large public urban university in the Southeast and was used for exploration into the social construction of abortion.

The Feminist and Population Control dimensions were expected to resemble each other on the abortion attitudes measure, but differ with respect to legitimate authority. Conversely, the Traditional and Population Control dimensions were expected to perform similarly on the legitimate authority measure, but differ on attitudes about access to legal abortion. Additionally, it was postulated that personal experience with abortion has the effect of making one more empathetic, and, therefore, more supportive of legal abortion. The expected pattern of responses to the abortion attitudes and legitimate authority measures were confirmed for two of the three dimensions; Feminist and Traditional. The Population Control dimension failed to correlate with either dependent variable. Finally, it appears that this study was not able to capture any influence that experience with abortion might have on one’s attitudes toward abortion access.


Scanned, with permission from the author, from the original print version, which resides in University Archives.


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