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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Leonard, Kevin Allen, 1964-

Second Advisor

Myers, Polly M. (Polly Marie)

Third Advisor

Nuzum, Kathleen, 1961-


In November 1970, fifty-six percent of Washington State voters approved Referendum 20. With this act, a state legalized abortion by popular vote for the first and only time in the history of the United States. This study explains how and why Washington State reformed its abortion law. The successful political campaign, led by Washington Citizens for Abortion Reform (WCAR), based in Seattle, constituted an unusual alliance of conservatives and liberals, men and women, Protestants and Catholics, often forgotten from the history of reproductive politics and certainly from the public debate on the issue during the twenty-first century. In the shadow of the population bomb-a postwar metaphor which conflated fears of atomic annihilation and overpopulation-a heterogeneous alliance of supporters for reform was built by Seattleites to meet their needs of a changing urban landscape. Members of the WCAR were professionals in law, medicine, politics, theology, and social work as well as citizen lobbyists. This study posits that their motivation to support the reform was shaped by their identity as a Seattleite (place identity), profession identity, and middle-class values in democracy, education, economic mobility, and family. Their understanding of the dilemma of unwanted pregnancies and illegal abortions was influenced by stories women told them about their need for abortion. These stories played a central role in the mobilization of the reform movement. Furthermore, messages about overpopulation and "healthy" sexuality informed the WCAR's advertisement campaign to solicit voter-approval for Referendum 20. This work argues that the science of ecology created a new lexicon and schema with which to consider population issues at the same time as a growing women's movement posited a challenging critique of gender roles. Therefore, the abortion reform movement was aided by two powerful, concurrent social movements during this era-the environmental and women's movements-in order to remake laws to reflect the changing needs of women in a post-industrial economy.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subjects – Names (LCNAF)

Washington Citizens for Abortion Reform (Organization)

Subject – LCSH

Abortion--Washington (State)--Seattle--History; Abortion--Social aspects--Washington (State); Overpopulation--Social aspects--Washington (State); Women's rights--Social aspects--Washington (State)

Geographic Coverage

Seattle (Wash.); Washington (State)




masters theses




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