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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: Redefining the Meaning of Critical Mass

Reproductive Rights: Redefining the Meaning of Critical Mass

(p.128) 6 Reproductive Rights: Redefining the Meaning of Critical Mass
The Impact of Women in Congress

Debra L. Dodson

Oxford University Press

When the 1994 elections gave control of Congress to a conservative, Christian Coalition-dominated, Republican majority, what some had over-optimistically touted as a critical mass of women became a token group, notwithstanding a slight increase in numbers. Nowhere was that more evident than in the ability of that new Republican majority to re-define the agenda, raising new issues (Partial Birth Abortion Ban) and challenging seemingly non-controversial, bipartisan, well-established programs (funding for the Title X Family Planning program and international family planning programs). The continued evidence of the gender gap in prochoice support, along with the critical role played by the shrinking cohort of prochoice Republican women in challenging their leadership’s anti-reproductive rights agenda, reinforce the importance of increasing descriptive representation. Nevertheless, the gendered roles assumed by a growing vocal cohort of female Republican reproductive rights opponents, reluctance by some ostensibly prochoice Republican women to challenge their leadership, a shrinking gender gap in prochoice support within Congress, and the frustrations of those who attempted to fight these often futile battles, all highlight the critical role that institutional environments, increased ideological diversity among women, and extra-institutional forces play in shaping the probabilistic relationship between descriptive and substantive representation, in strengthening or weakening perceptions of legitimacy surrounding gender difference, and in defining and redefining the meaning of substantive representation of women and realizing the potential for difference. These case studies explore gender differences in perspectives of reproductive rights opponents, provide insight into the value of bipartisan support for reproductive rights policy agendas (despite Republicans being less prochoice than Democrats), and point to the important role of women voters in maintaining bipartisan support and political resolve.

Keywords:   Partial Birth Abortion Ban, extra-institutional environment, descriptive representation, substantive representation, family planning programs, institutional constraints, legitimacy, gender gap, diversity, positional power

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