Pro-choice work under siege: Politicization, mobilization and commitment in three urban communities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Mobilization, Commitment, Urban communities, Workplace violence, Pro-choice work, Reproductive freedom

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Women's Studies


This dissertation addresses how pro-choice workers and activists respond to anti-abortion violence in the late 1990s. Literatures on social movement theory, women's activism, and reproductive rights provide the theoretical context for this investigation. This study explores how three urban communities of pro-choice workers implement strategies individually and collectively, through organizations and more fluid coalitions. Through all these strategies, pro-choice participants have reaffirmed their commitment to action around abortion rights in the face of serious violence in their communities.

This qualitative study is based on sixty-three in-depth interviews and nine months of participant observation in Boston, Massachusetts, Buffalo, New York and Atlanta, Georgia. These cities were chosen because they have been particularly hard-hit with anti-choice attacks, resulting in two murders and five injuries in Boston, a murder in Buffalo and two bombings at an abortion clinic in Atlanta, all since 1994. Feminist methodology and action research guide this project which highlights local grass-roots activism led by women.

Such an approach makes visible clinic workers and activists' everyday experiences in local pro-choice work while under siege from opposition attacks. Their accounts include stories about self-recruitment and ideology, diverse strategies, the climate of violence, mobilizing through grief and community building. This study suggests expanded notions of political participation to include how anti-abortion harassment and violence mobilizes clinic staff to be politicized. Instead of leaving in fear, pro-choice participants continue their struggle for safe access to abortion services through advocacy networks and organizations. Clinic workers and activists develop rituals of grief and mobilization while building solidarity.

Resource mobilization, new social movement, and framing theories help clarify how, while under attack, these communities utilize enhanced resources, unite under a shared ideology, and negotiate effective frames. Collective identity approaches of new social movement theories call attention to decentralized movement work driven by a shared pro-choice identity and common ideology. It accounts for the importance of more diffuse and symbolic strategies--such as the use of visibility, humor and politicized actions in daily work--which complement critical direct action.


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