Johnson Dissertation Defense: Access and Advocacy: The Practices and Philosophies of Abortion Funds Under Stress

Access and Advocacy: The Practices and Philosophies of Abortion Funds Under Stress

Erin R. Johnson, MPH


In this mixed methods dissertation, I seek to understand how abortion funds – grassroots organizations that help individuals seek abortion care – shape and are shaped by external forces including state and national abortion policy, changing social mores, and other social movement actors. Using data from a content analysis of public-facing abortion fund websites and social media profiles and from interviews with abortion fund leaders, I employ Goffman’s dramaturgical metaphor to compare and contrast the “frontstage” internet performances of funds with the rich “backstage” narratives of fund leaders to understand the complexity of these organizations’ identities and the tensions inherent in their work. First, I explore how funds have been shaped by policy as they work to counteract the effects of increasingly restrictive abortion laws and how this has necessarily impacted their tactics, partnerships, and rhetoric. Next, I examine the transition that funds are undergoing in the wake of the Dobbs decision, which overturned the constitutional protection of abortion rights in 1973’s Roe v Wade. I find that as funds gained a higher profile, many also found themselves engaged in contentious negotiations around their own identities and reputations in response to internal and external pressures. Finally, I analyze the role funds play in the movement space, relying on fund leaders’ narratives about what parts of fund work are social movement work and using situational analysis to locate funds in relation to other abortion movement actors. In doing so, I challenge traditional sociological theories of social movements by centering care work as the heart of movement work. Ultimately, I find that abortion funds are deeply liminal spaces – often occupying multiple positions at once as they navigate a changing policy landscape and contentious movement politics. This dissertation provides unique insight into the abortion access landscape, revealing the creative and sometimes tenuous ways that communities organize to resist unjust policy and enable access to care.
  • When: Monday May 6, 2024
  • Time: 11am
  • Where (in person): Valley Tower, 12th floor, View Room
  • Zoom: info provided on request