Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dunn, Jennifer


The mainstream abortion rights debate in the United States, its opposing factions popularly identified as pro-choice and pro-life, is reliant upon identifiable narratives of abortion's value to women and society and, alternately, its harms. This dissertation traces more than one hundred years of evolution of popular rhetoric surrounding the practice of elective termination of pregnancy in the U.S. and identifies the understandings of abortion and the women who have them which are most prominent in our culture today. This dissertation examines the ways in which women who have had abortions invoke the rhetoric of "sympathetic abortion" in making sense of their own experiences. For the pro-choice movement, young, childless women accomplish sympathetic abortions in light of factors like responsible birth control use and the pursuit of empowering life goals, while factors like existing children, previous abortions, and bad clinic experiences contradict this template. The women interviewed for this research discuss ways in which the circumstances surrounding their abortions and their individual approaches to their procedures align their reproductive choices with the sympathetic template or else point to ways in which their experiences fail this standard. Women occasionally transcend the templates of "good" and "bad" abortions and offer new meanings. This dissertation closes with a discussion of the role of women's stories in social movements and the consequences of discourse which ignores abortion experiences that fall short of the contemporary formula story.




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