Emotional Evidence, Personal Testimony, and Public Debate: A Case Study of the Post-Abortion Movement

Thumbnail Image


Publication or External Link






This dissertation investigates a new movement within the abortion debates in the United States known as the Post-Abortion Movement. Bypassing the stalemate between pro-life and pro-choice, activists in this movement focus on the potential psychological trauma of abortion, and in the last twenty years, they have argued for their views in different forums, grounding their case in the personal testimony of women who have undergone abortions. They have emphasized the validity of their narratives in defining their experience over the authority of medical professionals. This project assembles an archive of this movement, from its early advocacy literature to its professional discourse in journals, to its proliferating presence on websites. While offering a case study of how a movement gets started and has an impact on the public's perception of an issue, the Post-Abortion Movement and its tactics also raise important questions in rhetorical theory concerning the role of personal testimony in arguments. In five chapters, this dissertation gives the history of the Post-Abortion Movement and uses rhetorical theory to analyze its tactics. Its most effective tactic has been the creation of a new diagnostic category: "post-abortion syndrome." In a case study of advocacy, professional, and online genres, this project trace the rhetorical development of this concept and show how stakeholders use women's first-person accounts of their abortion experiences--women whom they identify as "post-abortive." This dissertation argues that Post-Abortion Movement supporters use personal testimonies as both a source of evidence for social science claims in policy arguments and a force for building a community of advocates. While contributing to the growing body of scholarship on narrative and the rhetoric of health and medicine, this dissertation shows how the Post-Abortion Movement's persistent casting of abortion as a potentially negative--rather than therapeutic or liberating--event has significantly influenced the current debate on women's responses to abortion.