Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in American society today. It raises extremely difficult questions about the nature and scope of our moral and legal rights, and the proper role of government in protecting and respecting those rights. What is more, many approach these questions through personal lenses shaped by their religious faith or lack thereof, which means it sometimes raises additional questions about the proper role of personal religious convictions in determining positions on laws and policies. Most Americans have complex and ambivalent views on the issue, but a relatively small percentage of activists on both sides have strong and diametrically opposed views. These so-called “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice” activists have had disproportionate influence over the two major parties, which differ starkly in their general positions on whether (and to what extent) abortion should be a legal choice for women to make. Abortion is thus also one of the most consequential issues behind partisan polarisation in the United States today.

Debating Abortion: Key Arguments and Points of Contention

Ethical / Philosophical Debates Over Abortion:

U.S. Constitutional Debates Over Abortion (Who decides, and who decides who decides?)

  • Roe v. Wade (1973): Based on the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court decides when a woman gets to decide and when / why state governments get to decide.
    • The legal reasoning of the Court’s decision
    • Criticisms of Roe
    • Other Defenses of Roe
  • Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey (1992): The Supreme Court decides to change when a woman gets to decide, when states governments get to decide, and what state governments may and may not do to regulate abortion (short of banning it).
    • The legal reasoning of the Court’s decision
    • Criticisms of Casey
    • Other Defenses of Casey
  • Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016): The Supreme Court reaffirms when a woman gets to decide and elaborates on what states may and may not do to regulate abortion.
    • The legal reasoning of the Court’s decision
    • Criticisms of Whole Women’s Health
    • Other Defenses of Whole Women’s Health
  • Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson (2021): The Court decides it can’t always decide.
  • Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (Argued 12/2021)
  • Constitutional questions and debates that would arise if the Court overturns Roe/Casey and declares the Constitution “neutral” on the question of abortion, thus deciding that only Congress and the states can decide when/if a woman gets to decide.
    • Commerce Clause Issues. See here.
    • Horizontal Federalism Issues. See here.
  • An alternative to Roe/Casey and Neutrality: Does the Constitution decide that abortion must be illegal?

Overview of Abortion Laws and Policies in the United States

Major Supreme Court rulings (add link to textbook section)



How major abortion laws compare state by state: Map


Abortion Politics I: Parties and Interest Groups

Party platforms

Major Interest Groups and Think Tanks

Abortion Politics II: Public Opinion and Voting

The following graphs are from a Pew Research Fact Sheet published online 5/6/2021, entitled “Public Opinion on Abortion”

Selected Published Academic Works on Abortion

Osborne, Danny, Yanshu Huang, Nickola C. Overall, Robbie M. Sutton, Aino Petterson, Karen M. Douglas, Paul G. Davies, and Chris G. Sibley. 2022. “Abortion Attitudes: An Overview of Demographic and Ideological Differences.” Political Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12803.