Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Daniel J. Palazzolo


The 1989 Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services U.S. Supreme Court decision triggered a "new politics of abortion," marked by a shift in venue of the abortion political debate to the states and by invigorated mobilization of pro-choice activists alarmed about a potential erosion of abortion rights in state laws. Surfacing in the wake of the decision was a "silver bullet" theory of abortion: that unrestricted support for legal abortion guarantees a candidate's electoral victory. Case studies of two post-Webster gubernatorial elections in Virginia fail to confirm the validity of the silver bullet theory. Public opinion findings reveal that the electorate cannot be accurately dissected into a simple dichotomy of abortion opinions, since many voters hold contradictory and ambiguous views on abortion and do not cast ballots solely on the basis of the abortion issue. Because public opinion on abortion is multi-dimensional, the way the issue is strategically framed to voters matters more in boosting electability than a candidate's issue position in itself. Factors other than the abortion-rights issue also played noteworthy roles in both gubernatorial election outcomes.