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The Impact of Women in Congress$
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Debra L. Dodson

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780198296744

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0198296746.001.0001

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Reproductive Rights: Gender Difference and the Paradox of Power

Reproductive Rights: Gender Difference and the Paradox of Power

(p.106) 5 Reproductive Rights: Gender Difference and the Paradox of Power
The Impact of Women in Congress

Debra L. Dodson

Oxford University Press

This chapter uses four legislative battles (the Freedom of Choice Act, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances bill, Medicaid funding of abortion, and abortion provisions in the Federal Employees’ Health Benefit Act) as case studies for understanding the contested issues and complexity belying gender difference and women’s impact. While women members were seen as united around reproductive rights, institutional dynamics in this partisan environment and extra-institutional pressures encouraged the increasingly diverse group of women to give voice to diversity, defined (and re-defined) women’s priorities and their understandings of their roles and responsibilities as representatives of women, and influenced their prospects for political success within an institution whose agenda they did not control. While the case studies suggest the need to bring more women into office, they remind us that the potential of presence is limited without positional power, and that mobilized women voters who pose a gender gap threat can provide legitimacy for difference within institutions steeped in masculine values.

Keywords:   reproductive rights policy, diversity, institutional environment, extra-institutional environment, masculinism, bipartisanship, positional power, descriptive representation, substantive representation, institutional constraints

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