Villains and victims: The impact of abortion stigma in Kansas abortion politics
Awarded 2020
Emerging Scholars in Family Planning
Elise Higgins, MA
University of Kansas

Elise is a fourth year PhD student at the University of Kansas and former lobbyist, organizer, and media spokesperson for Planned Parenthood. Her research is deeply informed by her experience of working against abortion stigma in the legislative and political process. Elise currently serves as the Vice President of the Kansas Abortion Fund, where her direct work with people accessing abortion care has informed her commitment to centering those experiences in my research. Elise’s dissertation uses a process tracing framework to follow the path of abortion stigma as it is developed, expanded, and perpetuated through the Kansas legislative process and people who provide and have abortions. Elise is conducting a case study of the 2020 Kansas legislative debate over a constitutional amendment that proposed to eliminate the right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution. A case study of this debate is useful for two reasons: (1) its high stakes generated an historically unprecedented amount of lobbyist and legislator advocacy; and (2) Kansas can serve as both a microcosm of and precursor to national abortion debates in which stigma is used as a political resource to create victims and villains. She will focus on how abortion stigma is developed, expanded and perpetuated as a political resource by political actors. Elise will use participant observation, content analysis, and interviews with lobbyists and politicians to determine how the powerful weapon of abortion stigma shapes individuals, politics, and movements in Kansas and beyond.