Controversial Topic: Abortion

Controversial Topic: Abortion

Abortion refers to the act of terminating a pregnancy before it can be carried to term. The abortion controversy concerns the ongoing debate and battle over the legal status of abortion in the U.S., both at the state and national levels. Abortion is among the most divisive debate topics in American public discourse. Views on abortion often carry religious, political, and cultural overtones. The debate is largely framed by two competing views: The Pro-Choice view, that abortion is a woman’s constitutionally-protected right; and the Pro-Life view, that abortion is immoral, and that the government should have the right to restrict and/or punish abortion. The ongoing public controversy over abortion makes this a popular persuasive essay topic.

Key Takeaways

  • Abortion has long been a controversial topic! When it comes to this topic, people are divided into two parties: pro-choice, who favor lifting limitations and increasing financing access to safe and legal abortions, and pro-life, who attempt to pass laws that restrict or limit access to abortion.
  • Abortions come in a variety of forms. While surgical and medical abortions are extremely safe, there are some side effects to be aware of and a few uncommon complications.
  • Following the US Supreme Court’s reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision in June 2022, which secured a constitutional right to an abortion for almost 50 years, the legal conflict over abortion has now been forwarded to the states to decide upon, with some attempting to outlaw it while others are working to protect it.

While research suggests that many Americans harbor views somewhere in between these two divergent positions, beliefs on abortion law and reproductive rights tend to be divided starkly across political party lines. As a matter of broad policy, the Republican Party seeks to make laws restricting or limiting access to abortion while the Democratic Party seeks to remove restrictions and improve funding for access to safe and legal abortions.

The debate over abortion often bleeds into many other aspects of American politics, impacting the way that individuals on both sides of the abortion debate craft policy, support candidates, and engage the legal system.” – @AcademicInflux

Affiliates of either party may hold their own views on the controversial topic which diverge from mainstream party beliefs, and the same is true for many Americans who identify as political independents. However, the divide over abortion is truly a major force in America’s 2-party political system. The debate over abortion often bleeds into many other aspects of American politics, impacting the way that individuals on both sides of the abortion controversy craft policy, support candidates, and engage the legal system.

In other words, while the abortion debate ostensibly concerns a single issue, it carries far-reaching religious, legal, and political implications, and bears a central connection to women’s rights movements. As a result, this controversial topic has an encompassing effect on the way people vote and politically identify.

A Brief History of the Issue

Early Feminists vs. Early Anti-Abortion Laws

In the early 19th century, abortion was not viewed as a constitutional issue, and was therefore left to the discretion of individual states. Most states imposed their own restrictions. Some states placed limitations on when, or under what conditions, an abortion could be performed. Other states imposed total bans on abortions and criminalized the acts of receiving or performing an abortion. 1820 marked the first time that the federal government weighed in, outlawing abortions after the fourth month of pregnancy.

This was the beginning of a tempered national discourse over anti-abortion legislation and reproductive rights. As the feminist movement was itself in an early stage of development, the public push against anti-abortion legislation was measured and muted. However, early leaders of the feminist movement did begin to push back against legislation restricting abortions. Though many early women’s rights pioneers acknowledged their own moral opposition to the practice of abortion, they also spoke in practical opposition to the criminalization of abortion.

While many early feminists expressed disapproval of abortion on moral or religious grounds, they also argued the need for safe and legal abortion as an antidote to pregnancies resulting from marital rape and the forcible seduction of unmarried women. From this view, both unwanted pregnancy and anti-abortion laws were seen as an extension of male control over female lives and bodies, and in particular, an extension of the general disrespect for a woman’s right to abstinence.

In spite of this view, the mid- and late-1800s saw the acceleration of restrictions around abortion. Among the most notable federal restrictions were those resulting from the Comstock Law, named for United States Postal Inspector General and creator of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, Anthony Comstock. Beginning in 1873, the Comstock Law outlawed the transmission by mail of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material, which was deemed to include, among many other things, information regarding abortion, contraception, and the prevention of venereal disease. This law had the effect of dramatically impinging on awareness of, support for, and access to abortion rights.

The AMA played a major role in proliferating the moral argument against abortion. This campaign was effective, with state legislators adopting bans on abortion in every single state by 1900.” – @AcademicInflux

Toward the end of the 19th century, the American Medical Association (AMA) began a long and sustained public campaign decrying the practice of abortion. The AMA played a major role in proliferating the moral argument against abortion. This campaign was effective, with state legislators adopting bans on abortion in every single state by 1900. Though abortion was a criminal act in every state, some states held exceptions in instances where a woman’s health was in danger, or where a pregnancy was the consequence of incest or rape.

Shifting Public Opinion

With widespread restrictions on abortion in place, various unrelated groups began to push back, touching off an increasingly public debate over abortion. In particular, some members of the medical community (in contrast to the AMA), began to voice public objection to the prohibition of abortion rights. In light of the restrictions and unavailability of safe and legal abortions, women facing unintended or unwanted pregnancy would resort to “back alley abortions,” procedures performed illegally and often under dangerous and unsanitary conditions. These conditions frequently resulted in health complications and fatalities. In light of the medical and legal dangers facing women with unwanted pregnancies, nurses, physicians, and social workers became part of a more vocal movement for an end to criminalization.

Certain religious groups also expressed support for decriminalization, arguing that the effects of unintended pregnancy on members of their community could be devastating. Some members of the Christian clergy took the position that supporting access to abortions was a more ethically grounded position than restricting or criminalizing the practice.

And as the feminist movement gained size and momentum, the issue over abortion became increasingly one of freedom, privacy, and women’s rights. The view gained traction that abortion was fundamentally a matter of personal choice and privacy, and that government laws banning abortion were an infringement on those constitutional rights.

Increased Advocacy and Access for Abortion Rights

In 1921, nurse, educator, and activist Margaret Sanger formed The American Birth Control League, which advocated for the opening of birth control clinics, and helped raise consciousness about the need for women to control their own fertility and reproductive decisions. In 1942, the league was renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The nonprofit organization has since grown to include more than 600 clinics throughout the United States focused on reproductive healthcare. Today, Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of reproductive health services, including abortions, in the United States.

As broader mainstream support emerged for decriminalization of abortion, an array of landmark court decisions and state-level legislative changes began to alter the legal landscape.” – @AcademicInflux

The mid-20th century saw growing support for women’s reproductive rights among various cross-sections of the American public. As broader mainstream support emerged for decriminalization of abortion, an array of landmark court decisions and state-level legislative changes began to alter the legal landscape.

In the early 1960s, a number of high-profile public cases began to erode the sweeping restrictions over abortion. Among them:

  • In 1962, a pregnant Arizona mother of four named Sherri Finkbine learned that her 5th child would likely be born with significant fetal deformities due to the now-notorious sleeping pill, Thalidomide. Arizona laws held that an abortion could only be performed if the mother’s life was in danger. Finkbine traveled to Sweden to obtain an abortion, but her story had a major impact on the public view of abortion, especially on the behalf of women who might not have had Finkbine’s financial resources or access to travel.
  • In 1964, a Connecticut woman named Gerri Santoro died after seeking an illegal abortion, and was adopted as a tragic symbol of the push for women’s reproductive rights.
  • In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling on Griswold v. Connecticut, struck down the Comstock Laws pertaining to contraception, creating access in Connecticut and Massachusetts for those in marital relationships. In 1972, Eisenstadt extended this access to unmarried individuals.
  • In 1967, Colorado became the first state to decriminalize abortion, though only in cases of rape, incest, and the risk of permanent disability to the mother. North Carolina, California, and Oregon soon followed suit.
  • In 1970, Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortion without limiting conditions like those in Colorado. Alaska and Washington soon followed suit.
  • By 1972, 13 states had passed laws similar to Colorado’s conditional decriminalization. As some states relaxed prohibition around abortion and others retaining existing restrictions, women seeking abortions traveled across state lines in increasing numbers for access to safe and legal procedures.

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

1973 remains a landmark year in both the abortion debate and the broader struggle for women’s rights. In fact, the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade is among the most consequential court precedents in modern history. At the time of the decision, 30 states had total bans on abortion, 16 states allowed conditional abortion, and four states allowed legal abortions.

In Roe v. Wade, a Texas woman filed suit against the state, arguing that its anti-abortion laws were a violation of the 14th Amendment right to privacy. In his majority opinion, Justice Harry Blackmum found that “This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or ... in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

For 50 years, Roe v. Wade was viewed as the law of the land regarding abortion. But The long-standing precedent was overturned with a Supreme Court ruling in 2022.” – @AcademicInflux

In this finding, the Supreme Court would invalidate all existing federal and state-level laws criminalizing abortion, and it would extend new terms around the government regulation of abortion. Subsequent cases, such as Doe v. Bolton (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) have grappled with questions over the viability of a fetus and the health of the woman, especially during the later stages of pregnancy. Roe v. Wade has been challenged frequently. In the 50 years that followed this landmark decision, the findings of Roe v. Wade had been upheld and refined by these and other cases. And for 50 years, its precedent was viewed as the law of the land regarding abortion.

The long-standing Roe v. Wade precedent was overturned with a Supreme Court ruling issued in June of 2022. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito argued “that the 1973 Roe ruling and repeated subsequent high court decisions reaffirming Roe ‘must be overruled’ because they were ‘egregiously wrong,’ the arguments ‘exceptionally weak’ and so ‘damaging’ that they amounted to ‘an abuse of judicial authority.’”

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Sources of Historical Influence

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential figures concerning the issue of abortion in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. This list is vetted to exclude political heads of state. The appearance of religious leaders, Supreme Court Justices, economists, and feminists demonstrates the impact of the abortion debate in various aspects of American life.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Abortion Debate
1Pope Francis
2Anthony Kennedy
3Sandra Day O’Connor
4Antonin Scalia
5Clarence Thomas
6Pope Benedict XVI
7Steven Levitt
8Pope John Paul II
9Samuel Alito
10Betty Friedan

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books on the topic of abortion in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. This list is vetted to exclude the dominant appearance of religious scriptures, though we would make the case that such religious scriptures are worth consideration for a fuller understanding of the theistic dimensions of the abortion debate.

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Abortion
RankBook Title
2The Feminine Mystique
3Hills Like White Elephants
4More Guns, Less Crime
5The Second Sex
6Mark of the Christian
7The Dialectic of Sex
8The Second Stage
9Practical Ethics
10The City of God
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The Current Controversy

Though Roe v. Wade set forth the federal precedent on abortion, the political and cultural orientation of individual states plays a major role in the funding, availability, and access to abortions at the local level. Moreover, groups who are opposed to the practice of abortion maintain a high level of political activity, pushing for legislation to limit or re-criminalize abortion. Within this context, there are essentially two distinct sides on the abortion issue.

  • Pro-Life advocates typically support limits to the access or availability of abortion, and in many cases, support political candidates and legislative actions aimed at limiting, conditionally restricting, or altogether restricting the practice of abortion; whereas
  • Pro-Choice advocates typically support the precedent established by Roe v. Wade, that abortion is a constitutionally-protected privacy, and that women are entitled to autonomy over their bodies and reproductive rights.

There is a great deal of political activity around this issue, with highly emotional and engaged participants on both sides of the debate. In fact, abortion remains among the most politicized issues in public discourse, with views dividing somewhat rigidly across party lines. The Republican Party identifies closely with the Pro-Life movement, with many of its candidates and priorities echoing the views of anti-abortion activist groups; whereas the Democratic Party identifies closely with the Pro-Choice movement, with many of its candidates and priorities echoing the views of women’s reproductive rights activist groups.

This divide tends to frame a wide range of directly or tangentially related political issues including debates over the freedom of religious expression, individual healthcare rights, and the appropriate distribution of public resources. The last of these issues–distribution of resource–is of particular importance in the ongoing push and pull over abortion. For 50 years, Roe v. Wade prevented states and municipalities from banning or criminalizing abortion. Still, many states have taken steps to limit abortions by creating obstructions to funding, access, and the availability of reproductive health services.

And with the Supreme Court ruling in June of 2022 overturning Roe v. Wade, many of these same states have immediately enacted new laws restricting and criminalizing abortion.

Again, consistent with the political divide that frames this issue, “red” states, those which tend to lean Republican in national politics, are most likely to take steps toward limiting abortion access, while “blue” states, those which tend to lean Democratic in national politics, are most likely to create and expand access to reproductive health services including abortion. Because this is an issue which stratifies so sharply across political lines, the legal and practical status of abortion in the U.S., and in individual states, is in constant dispute.

Basic Facts About Abortion

Despite some restrictive laws regarding abortion, it’s still considered the safest and most often performed medical procedure in the United States. Many Americans are debating the process’s frequency, safety, and dependability as anti-abortion laws spread across the nation.

Here is a thorough overview of what abortion in the United States looks like in the present day.

Declining abortion rates

Abortions, despite battles over the issue, are very common in the United States. However, the overall number has been decreasing for years. Health professionals believe the decline results from increased awareness of unintended pregnancies and easier access to birth control.

Abortions are thought to be very safe medical practices

Serious issues or consequences following an abortion are quite uncommon. The first trimester is the preferred time to have an abortion. There is substantially less chance of problems, such as infection, uterine perforation, or significant bleeding.

Abortions often occur in younger women with financial incapability.

The woman’s worry about being able to support the children they already have is the most frequently mentioned justification for induced abortion. Access to birth contraception is incredibly scarce in less affluent areas. As a result, more unexpected pregnancies and abortions are far more prevalent among poorer women.

Types of abortion available.

How far along your pregnancy is will usually determine which form of abortion you should have. However, there are currently two types of abortion: medication abortion and surgical abortion.

The “abortion pill” is a kind of medication abortion in which a woman takes tablets to end the pregnancy by inducing the uterus to evacuate the developing fetus. A pharmaceutical abortion can be performed at home within the initial nine weeks of pregnancy.

There are also surgical abortions, commonly known as in-clinic abortions, in which a medical specialist medically removes the pregnancy from the uterus using devices. Abortions performed surgically have been demonstrated to be almost always effective.


Contraception is widely used in nations where abortion is generally allowed. These nations frequently have developed healthcare systems and are wealthier overall. Thus, the prevalence of unwanted pregnancy is typically low. However, because abortion services are often accessible, a higher proportion of those pregnancies end in abortion.

Contrarily, contraceptive use is typically low in nations with restrictive abortion laws. As a result, there are thousands of unwanted pregnancies. However, only a small portion of such pregnancies result in abortions, most likely because of limited abortion access.

In the end, restrictive abortion regulations are not associated with a reduction in the number of abortions. Instead, those regulations are linked to an increase in unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion, resulting in an abortion rate similar to that seen in nations where the procedure is available.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that outlawing abortions does not affect their frequency. The requirement for a procedure still exists even after it is made unlawful. Women will hunt for abortion services to end their pregnancies, whether they are safe or not.

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A Quick Overview of Our Method

Our goal in presenting subjects that generate controversy is to provide you with a sense of some of the figures both past and present who have driven debate, produced widely-recognized works of research, literature, or art, proliferated their ideas widely, or who are identified directly and publicly with some aspect of this debate. By identifying the researchers, activists, journalists, educators, academics, and other individuals connected with this debate-and by taking a closer look at their work and contributions-we can get a clear but nuanced look at the subject matter. Rather than framing the issue as one side versus the other, we bring various dimensions of the issue into discussion with one another. This will likely include dimensions of the debate that resonate with you, some dimensions that you find repulsive, and some dimensions that might simply reveal a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.

On the subject of abortion, the debate requires us to consider those who align with both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movement, as well as those who may be termed as “anti-abortion” and those who advocate for “abortion rights” or “reproductive rights.” Also pertinent are those with a practical or symbolic connection to activist groups such as the Pro-Life organizations Defense of Life and March for Life, as well as those connected to key court cases (Roe v. Wade) and organizations (Planned Parenthood). These terms should deliver us to a nuanced understanding of some key influencers and their position in the public debate.

Our InfluenceRanking engine gives us the power to scan the academic and public landscape surrounding the abortion issue using key terminology to identify consequential influencers. As with any topic that generates public debate and disagreement, this is a subject of great depth and breadth. We do not claim to probe either to the bottom of this depth or the borders of this breadth. Instead, we offer you one way to enter into this debate, to identify key players, and through their contributions to the debate, to develop a fuller understanding of the issue and perhaps even a better sense of where you stand.

For a closer look at how our InfluenceRankings work, check out our methodology.

Otherwise get started with a look at the key words we used to explore this subject:

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Key Terms in the Abortion Controversy


Abortion refers to the termination of a pregnancy and, in the context of the public debate, largely refers to the medical procedures used to carry out this termination. The “abortion” terminology generally yielded results centered around the Pro-Choice Movement, highlighting activists and physicians who have advocated for women’s reproductive rights.


  • Susan Hill was an abortion rights activist from Durham, North Carolina. She was President of the National Women’s Health Organization in North Carolina, helping oversee a group of abortion clinics in the Southeast. She is most celebrated for her commitment to women’s reproductive rights, with the National Organization for Women writing about Hill “She went on to open the first abortion clinic in the state of Florida and was a founding member of both the National Abortion Federation and the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.”
  • Warren Martin Hern, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D. is an American physician best known for performing late terminations of pregnancy. In 1973, he founded Boulder Abortion Clinic in Boulder, Colorado. Hern was a founding member of the National Abortion Federation, and authored Abortion Practice, a comprehensive text on operating and evaluating abortion facilities. He and doctors LeRoy Carhart, Shelley Sella, and Susan Robinson were the subject of the 2013 documentary After Tiller about the four providers openly advertising later abortions in the United States after the 2009 assassination of George Tiller.
  • Lucinda Cisler is an American abortion rights activist, Second Wave feminist, and member of the New York-based radical feminist group the Redstockings. Her writings on unnecessary obstructions to medical abortion procedures in many ways predicted anti-abortion strategies in the 2010s, called |Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers by abortion rights advocates.


Anti-abortion refers to the position taken by contingents of the Pro-Life movement. The results yielded by this terminology generally point to activists and physicians who have opposed the decriminalization of abortion, or who have taken efforts to restrict access and support laws aimed at limiting or re-criminalizing abortion.


  • Lila Grace Rose is an American anti-abortion activist who is the founder and president of the anti-abortion organization Live Action. She has conducted undercover, investigative exposés of abortion facilities in the United States, including affiliates of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
  • Bernard N. Nathanson was an American medical doctor and co-founder in 1969 of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws - NARAL - later renamed National Abortion Rights Action League. He was also the former director of New York City’s Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, but later became an anti-abortion activist. He was the narrator for the controversial 1984 anti-abortion film The Silent Scream.
  • David C. Reardon is an American electrical engineer and anti-abortion activist. He is the founder of the Elliot Institute, an anti-abortion advocacy group, and the author of a number of articles and books on abortion and mental health. Reardon was described in the New York Times Magazine as the “Moses” of the “post-abortion movement”.


Pro-Life refers to the anti-abortion movement. Adherents to this viewpoint are often highly politically active, particularly as part of the Republican Party. The Pro-Life position is at once a political disposition in opposition to abortion and a reflection of the religious view that the life of a child begins at the time of conception. From this view, abortion is tantamount to infanticide. Many contingents of the Pro-Life movement also claim close connections to various religious communities, and most particularly to the Evangelical branch of Christianity. In many ways, the Pro-Life movement serves as the connective tissue between religious Evangelicals and the Republican Party, based on their shared opposition to abortion.


  • Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is an American pro-life activist. She is the founder of the pro-life organization New Wave Feminists. She is also a frequent op-ed contributor for The Dallas Morning News.
  • Paul Benno Marx, OSB was an American Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine monk, family sociologist, writer, and one of the leaders of the pro-life movement. He started the Human Life Center at Saint John’s University in Minnesota , likewise the local Sociology Department, furthermore Human Life International and Population Research Institute. His book The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn belongs to the basic literature of the pro-life movement.
  • Vyckie Garrison is a former member of the Quiverfull movement. She published a “pro-life, pro-family” newspaper, The Nebraska Family Times, widely circulated in northeast Nebraska. The newspaper was fundamentalist and theocratic, but not necessarily aimed at families that adhered to Quiverfull philosophy. She wrote articles for various publications for Christian homeschoolers. After leaving the movement, she began a blog No Longer Quivering, an online resource for women leaving Quiverfull or similar movements.


Pro-Choice refers to the viewpoint that abortion, and women’s reproductive rights in general, are a matter of personal choice. The Pro-Choice movement is considered both a philosophy regarding reproductive rights and a political disposition regarding the constitutional right of women to privacy and bodily autonomy. The Pro-Choice movement is closely connected with the Democratic Party, and broadly supports candidates for office who work to protect a woman’s right to choose.


  • Anne Quesney is the director of the pro-choice campaign group Abortion Rights. Prior to this she was an international campaigns coordinator for Landmine Action, also campaigns coordinator for the National Abortion Campaign, and education development officer for Education for Choice. She has also written for the New Statesman.
  • Anne Nicol Gaylor was an American atheist and reproductive rights advocate. She co-founded the Freedom from Religion Foundation and an abortion fund for Wisconsin women. She wrote the book and edited The World Famous Atheist Cookbook. In 1985 Gaylor received the Humanist Heroine Award from the American Humanist Association, and in 2007 she was given the Tiller Award by NARAL Pro-Choice America.
  • Ilyse Hogue is an American progressive activist who has served as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a reproductive rights lobbying and advocacy organization, since 2013.

Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights refers broadly to the set of freedoms and protections for women sought by advocates of the Pro-Choice position. This terminology refers to rights relating to contraception, abortion, access, and choice, as well as protection against infringement upon these rights either by the law or by indirect efforts at preventing access to reproductive health services. A search on this terminology reveals a list of activists and legal advocates who have worked to expand and protect these rights.


  • Janet Benshoof was an American human rights lawyer and President and Founder of the Global Justice Center. She founded the Center for Reproductive Rights, the world’s first international human rights organization focused on reproductive choice and equality.
  • Maxine Wolfe is an American activist for AIDS, civil rights, lesbian rights, reproductive rights as well as many related areas. She was not raised in a political household nor did her family believe policy was written for her people as they were working class Jewish immigrants in America.
  • Milikini Failautusi is an activist from Tuvalu in the areas of youth, climate change, gender, human rights, indigenous rights, and sexual reproductive health and rights.

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is a nationwide network of more than 600 reproductive health services clinics. In addition to being the nation’s leading provider of reproductive health services, including abortions, Planned Parenthood is a politically active entity that works to expand access and advocate for protections for women seeking counsel and treatment.


  • Dawn Laguens is the former Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer of Planned Parenthood and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She is Vice Chair of LPAC, the LGBTQ+ social justice and women’s equality Super PAC. She is Strategic Advisor at Redshift Leadership and the Vaid Group. As of 2019, she is also the Expert-In-Residence at IDEO. Additionally, she is a writer and filmmaker, having served as executive producer of Across the Line, a virtual reality look at the personal experience of getting access to abortion, that debuted at Sundance in 2016. She has been published in TIME, New York Magazine, The Anchorage Daily News, and on Refinery29,, The Daily Beast,, and other outlets. She has also appeared on CNN, NPR, CBS, and other media.
  • Alexander C. Sanger is an American reproductive rights activist and the current Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council. He is the grandson of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood who opened America’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1916. Sanger previously served as a United Nations Population Fund Goodwill Ambassador, as the President of Planned Parenthood of New York City and President of its international arm, The Margaret Sanger Center International from 1991-2000.
  • Alan Frank Guttmacher, was an American obstetrician/gynecologist. He served as president of Planned Parenthood and vice-president of the American Eugenics Society. Dr. Guttmacher founded the American Association of Planned Parenthood Physicians, now known as the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, as a forum for physicians to discuss the birth control pill and other advances in the field. He founded the Association for the Study of Abortion in 1964. He was a member of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization. The Guttmacher Institute is named after him.

Abortion Rights

Abortion rights refer to the legal right to terminate a pregnancy (as opposed to the more encompassing phrase, “reproductive rights.“). The search on this terminology yields an array of activists, legal advocates and physicians who have worked to defend and better define the rights accorded to women around abortion based on the initial precedent set in Roe V. Wade.


  • Lucinda Cisler is an American abortion rights activist, Second Wave feminist, and member of the New York-based radical feminist group the Redstockings. Her writings on unnecessary obstructions to medical abortion procedures in many ways predicted anti-abortion strategies in the 2010s, called |Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers by abortion rights advocates.
  • Fran Avallone, born Frances Janet Weinstein, was an American abortion rights advocate. She was director of New Jersey Right to Choose as well as Choice New Jersey, a coalition of 30 abortion rights groups.
  • Henekh “Henry” Morgentaler, was a Jewish Polish-born Canadian physician and abortion rights advocate who fought numerous legal battles aimed at expanding abortion rights in Canada. As a youth during World War II, Morgentaler was imprisoned at the Łódź Ghetto and later at the Dachau concentration camp.

Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade refers to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case in which a Texas woman successfully argued that laws restricting access to abortion in her home state were an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment right to privacy. This law has been frequently refined, and constantly challenged, but has remained the prevailing federal position on abortion since the authorship of its majority position. It remains a major flashpoint in the debate for both the Pro-Choice advocates who celebrate this precedent and the Pro-Choice movement which has worked to undermine or overturn it.


  • Henry Menasco Wade was a Texas lawyer who served as District Attorney of Dallas from 1951 to 1987. As such, he participated in two of the most notable U.S. court cases of the 20th century: the prosecution of Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade. In addition, Wade was District Attorney when Randall Dale Adams, the subject of the documentary film The Thin Blue Line, was convicted in the murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer.
  • Sandra Cano, better known by the legal pseudonym “Mary Doe,” was the plaintiff in the lawsuit case Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade.
  • Norma Leah Nelson McCorvey, better known by the generic legal pseudonym “Jane Roe”, was the plaintiff in the landmark American legal case Roe v. Wade in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that individual state laws banning abortion were unconstitutional.

Defense of Life/March for Life

The Pro-Life movement is comprised of numerous activist groups, many with close ties to both the Evangelical branch of Christianity and the Republican Party. Groups like the Defense of Life and the March for Life take the position that abortion is the termination of a life, and should be treated as a criminal act. These organizations support candidates and lobby for legislation aimed at limiting access to abortion and challenging the current legal status quo at the federal level.


  • Nellie Jane Gray was an American pro-life activist who founded the annual March for Life in 1974, in response to the Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, which decriminalized abortion the previous year.
  • James Patrick McFadden was an American journalist and publisher who founded the Ad Hoc Committee in Defense of Life in 1973 as a reaction to the Roe v. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court. He also founded the Human Life Foundation, and in 1974 he launched its publication, the Human Life Review, a quarterly journal of scholarship opposed to abortion. He also founded the National Committee of Catholic Laymen in 1977.
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Influential Organizations Involved in the Abortion Controversy

If you would like to study this topic in more depth, check out these key organizations...

Pro-Life Groups

Pro-Choice Groups

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