Politics & Gender

Research Article

Structure, Empowerment and the Liberalization of Cross-National Abortion Rights

Victor Asala1, Mitchell Browna2 and Renee Gibson Figueroaa3

a1 Rockefeller College, University at Albany, SUNY

a2 Auburn University

a3 Rockefeller College, University at Albany, SUNY


Economic, cultural, and political opportunity structures have been separately shown to facilitate and constrain abortion rights. We examine two central and related questions: First, which factors explain liberalization of different types of abortion laws? Second, which factor or set of factors is the most important in explaining abortion laws? The cross-national literature suggests a three-pronged explanation for the existence of abortion rights, including politics, economics, and culture. We parse these out into the structural and empowerment components of each, and posit a theory of rights in which empowerment factors are at least as important, if not more important, for explaining change than structural factors. To test this, we examine the impact of these components on the liberalization of abortion rights globally utilizing a distributed lag model. We find that an empowerment approach explains the liberalization of abortion laws better than a structural approach in terms of politics, but that a structural approach is a better predictor in terms of culture, and that both empowerment and structural factors are important predictors when economic factors are taken into account. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings for understanding policy change and human rights on a global scale.