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Gendered Polarization and Abortion Policymaking in the States

  • Abigail A. Matthews EMAIL logo , Rebecca J. Kreitzer and Emily U. Schilling
From the journal The Forum


Widening, asymmetric polarization is evident in both the U.S. Congress and state legislatures. Recent work unveils a new dimension to this polarization story: newly elected Republican women are driving this polarization. Women are more likely to legislate on women’s issues than men, yet women’s shared interest in representing women doesn’t preclude their identity as partisans. In this article, we explore the effect of today’s political climate on state legislators’ policy representation of women’s issues. We ask what effect does gendered polarization have on women’s issues? To test this, we evaluate bill sponsorship in the states on the quintessential “women’s issue” of abortion. Our research design focuses on bill introductions and uses on an original dataset of pro- and anti-abortion rights bill introductions, which we analyze using an event count model. We find that overall polarization leads to the introduction of fewer restrictive abortion bills, but as polarization between women lawmakers grows, legislators are more likely to introduce anti-abortion rights legislation. Gender polarization has consequences on the types of bills legislators introduce and for how scholars should study polarization.

Corresponding author: Abigail A. Matthews, University at Buffalo, SUNY, Buffalo, USA, E-mail:


Table A1:

Data sources.

Gender polarizationDifference between median Democrat women and median Republican women across both chambersShor and McCarty 2011
Legislative polarizationDifference between median Democrat and median Republican across both chambersShor and McCarty 2011
Any type of women’s caucus1 = any form of a women’s caucus in the state 0 = no women’s caucus in the stateMahoney 2018
Republican control of legislatureIndicator variable for unified Republican control of the legislature for the anti-abortion rightsKlarner et al. 2013
Democrat control of legislatureIndicator variable for unified Democratic control of the legislature for the pro-abortion rightsKlarner et al. 2013
Percent democratic women in legislaturePercent Democratic Women in LegislatureCAWP 2001
Percent republican women in legislaturePercent Republican Women in LegislatureCAWP 2001
State ideologyState Government Ideology, 1960–2017

% of Presidential Vote Share – Bush 2000
Berry et al. 2013, 1998
Wright, Osborn,Winburn 2004
Table A2:

Polarization over time.

Gender polarization
Legislative polarization


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Published Online: 2020-09-21

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