Framing is an active, evolving process to construct meaning and the evolution of frames reflects change in social movement or among activists. (Benford and Snow (2000)). Framing allows people to make sense of their world or events by putting it into context. In their paper Opposition to Abortion Then and Now: How Amicus Briefs Use Policy Frames in Abortion Litigation, Laura P. Moyer, Alyson Hendricks-Benton, and Megan Balcom explore how amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court have affected the choice of frames over time in relation to changing policy, politics and strategies of pro-life and abortion-rights groups. Amicus briefs are legal briefs that are submitted to the Court by interested parties on both sides of the case. In a subject like abortion in which rulings and the politics evolved over a long period they are a good way to see if the social and political discourse has extended to the litigation. Language is often political and WordStat can help uncover the political use of language.
The paper looks at three different cases in different times (1970s-to-2016) to examine framing. The three cases begin with Roe vs Wade, another key case selected in 1989 and a case in 2016 to analyze the framing of abortion arguments over this period. The authors “focus on three key aspects of the political opportunity structure: (1) the legal frameworks within which amicus groups had to structure their arguments, (2) changes to the composition of the Supreme Court, and (3) signals from the political environment about openness to the antiabortion position (Meyer and Minkoff 2004)
Language is an essential component of the strategy and tactics of both sides in the debate. In just one example, the authors write that, “in the amicus filings for the 1989 case Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, Woliver describes the framing of abortion this way: “Fetuses are never called fetuses, they are always ‘unborn children,’ ‘unborn life,’ ‘prenatal life,’ ‘children in the womb,’ ‘human life before birth,’ unborn grandchildren,’ ‘viable unborn,’ ‘minor child,’ ‘unborn human life’ (Webster Brief 20)” (1998, 238).
The authors started with the LIWC dictionary and developed three custom dictionaries from the briefs using WordStat Content Analysis Software. The dictionaries were related to the following frames, morality, harm-women and science. You can see the full dictionaries in the appendix to the paper.
We have chosen to highlight this paper because it is based on a current and complex subject and shows a useful application of WordStat and dictionaries that can be applied to other subjects and disciplines.
You can read the full paper.
Opposition to Abortion Then and Now: How Amicus Briefs Use Policy Frames in Abortion Litigation, Laura P. Moyer, Alyson Hendricks-Benton, and Megan Balcom