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Reproductive policy and the social construction of motherhood

  • Bonnie Stabile (a1)
Abstract

Background. Reproductive technologies allow women to embrace or forgo motherhood, but a woman’s ability to make autonomous reproductive choices depends on access to these technologies. In the United States, public policies — laws, regulations, appropriations, and rulings — have either broadened or narrowed this access.

Question. Have U.S. public policies affecting reproductive choices conformed to attitudinal distinctions about motherhood itself?

Methods. I identified policies covering infertility, contraception, and abortion and examined them contextually within the Ingram-Schneider social construction framework.

Findings. Women’s choices fell within social construction quadrants as being positively portrayed and powerful; negatively portrayed but powerful; positively portrayed but powerless; and negatively portrayed and powerless. Married heterosexual women embracing motherhood were likely to be viewed positively and to reap benefits. Women forgoing motherhood, poor women, and women seeking to form nontraditional families were likely to be viewed negatively and to bear burdens; critical among these burdens was restriction of access to technologies that could be used to support a decision to avoid motherhood or to achieve motherhood through nontraditional methods.

Conclusion. Yes, U.S. public policies affecting reproductive choices have conformed to attitudinal distinctions about motherhood itself. These policies may also have altered those choices.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Correspondence: Bonnie Stabile, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, 3351 Fairfax Drive, MS3B1, Arlington, VA 22201. Email: bstabile@gmu.edu
References
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