Conflict and Religion in Global Culture: The Worldwide Liberalization of Abortion Legislation, 1945-2010
This paper brings recent theoretical contributions of field theory to the growing empirical research on policy diffusion. Most diffusion research conceptualizes the supranational order as exerting only uniform and unidirectional pressures for reform. To overcome this overly-restrictive vision, the paper conceptualizes the global cultural order as an arena of contestation where supranational actors in different structural locations mobilize distinct normative projects. The study explores the advantages of this latter approach through the case of the worldwide liberalization of induced abortion between 1945 and 2010. In this period two global actors have advanced two incompatible interpretative frames of induced abortion. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has mobilized a ‘sanctity of life frame’ that condemns abortion under all conditions. In contrast, the transnational family planning movement has mobilized a ‘public health frame’ that underscores the risk of unsafe, illegal abortions. Using event history methods, the study examines if the domestic exposure to these frames shapes the likelihood of abortion liberalization in 158 independent states. The statistical analysis shows that the conflict between transnational frames on abortion is consequential for domestic policy-making. Countries with an organization member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation are more likely to liberalize abortion under fetal impairment, socioeconomic and on demand grounds. In addition, countries to which the Holy See devoted an exclusive apostolic delegate or nuncio are less likely to liberalize abortion under rape, fetal impairment, and on demand grounds and to approve mifepristone use.