Exploiting a Crisis: Abortion Activism and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Exploiting a Crisis: Abortion Activism and the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Kate Hunt, Indiana University

How do social movement organizations involved in abortion debates leverage a global crisis to pursue their goals? In recent months there has been media coverage of how anti-abortion actors in the United States attempted to use the COVID-19 pandemic to restrict access to abortion by classifying abortion as a non-essential medical procedure. Was the crisis “exploited” by social movement organizations (SMOs) in other countries? I bring together Crisis Exploitation Theory and the concept of discursive opportunity structures to test whether social movement organizations exploit crisis in ways similar to elites, with those seeking change being more likely to capitalize on the opportunities provided by the crisis. Because Twitter tends to be on the frontlines of political debate—especially during a pandemic—a dataset is compiled of over 12,000 Tweets from the accounts of SMOs involved in abortion debates across four countries to analyze the patterns in how they responded to the pandemic. The results suggest that crisis may disrupt expectations about SMO behavior and that anti- and pro-abortion rights organizations at times framed the crisis as both a “threat” and as an “opportunity.”


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