The American abortion debate: culture war or normal discourse?

Va Rev Sociol. 1995;2:115-32.


This paper investigates whether James Hunter's culture war thesis is an apt characterization of the American abortion debate. The author focuses on three arguments central to Hunter's analysis: 1) that the abortion debate involves two paradigmatically opposed world views; 2) that debate about abortion, since it involves moral discourse, is structurally different than other political debates; and 3) that the new alignments in abortion politics are culturally significant. Examining existing research in each of these three domains, the author finds that the debate over abortion is more complex than suggested by Hunter. World views of pro-life and pro-choice activists, for example, share a commitment to some overlapping values; the argumentative structure of abortion discourse has a pattern rather similar to that of political debate more generally, and new alignments on abortion, such as that between the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, do not displace historically embedded differences in symbolic resources and cultural orientation. As suggested by the author, it may be more helpful, therefore, to think of the abortion debate as an ongoing public conversation about America's cultural tradition and how it should be variously expressed in contemporary laws and practices.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced*
  • Americas
  • Attitude*
  • Behavior
  • Culture*
  • Developed Countries
  • Ethics*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic*
  • Family Planning Services
  • North America
  • Politics*
  • Psychology
  • Public Opinion*
  • United States