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Sustaining the State: Legal Consciousness and the Construction of Legality in Competing Abortion Activists' Narratives

Authors

  • Joshua C. Wilson

    Corresponding author
    1. John Jay College, CUNY
      Joshua C. Wilson is an assistant professor of political science at John Jay College, CUNY. He can be contacted at jcwilson@jjay.cuny.edu.
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  • He would like to thank Robert Kagan, Julie Novkov, George Lovell, Kristin Luker, Malcolm Feeley, Erin Ackerman, and Gerald Wilson for their guidance and comments on the various stages of this project. He also gratefully acknowledges the opportunity to do research for this project within the University Archives at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the financial assistance of the John Jay College Research Assistance Program, the Center for the Study of Law and Society, the University of California, and the Field Psych Trust.

Joshua C. Wilson is an assistant professor of political science at John Jay College, CUNY. He can be contacted at jcwilson@jjay.cuny.edu.

Abstract

This article investigates how activists involved in both sides of the street politics of abortion simultaneously create, are constrained by, and use law when recounting a period of conflict that resulted in litigation. The activists-turned-litigants' construction of legality is explored by identifying and analyzing patterns of inclusion, absence, amendment, and type of law (i.e., state or extrastate) in and across the stories they tell. It is found that even though there are multiple reasons to expect all of these activists to resist or amend the state's conception of law, their narratives ultimately reproduce state law's legitimacy and power. The activists' stories also illustrate that legal consciousness is contextually and experientially based and is therefore subject to change. This finding has implications for legal mobilization as well as for the nature of legal consciousness.

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