The effects of overturning Roe vs. Wade on US Politicians’ narratives about abortion law. Advancing the narrative policy framework with computational content analysis
On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark legislation that made access to abortion a federal right. It was a success for the anti-abortion campaign, which many members of the Republican party supported. As a popular online social network among policy actors (Stier, 2016), Democrat and Republican politicians use Twitter to share their opinion and stance on various issues and advocate for their preferred policies. In their tweets, some House and Senate representatives also convey stories and narratives about abortions. This study examines whether overturning Roe vs. Wade had an effect on how House and Senate representatives frame narratives about abortion policies.
As a relatively new and emerging approach in policy-based scholarship (Stauffer and Kuenzler (2021) in Special Issue of European Policy Analysis), the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) is an ideal tool to analyze the research question. While there are numerous story types, the NPF highlights four specific types outlined by Stone (2012): a story of decline, a story of stymied progress, a story of helplessness, and a story of control (Jones, Shanahan, and McBeth 2014). Depending on the narrators’ policy agenda, they use different story types.
Several policy actors construct and circulate policy narratives (Jones, Shanahan, and McBeth 2014). This study examines data from 405 House and Senate representatives involved in the Twitter debate about abortion. As a timeframe, narratives from the year 2022 –
including the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in June, the previous leaked initial draft majority opinion in May (Politico, 2022), and the 2022 U.S. elections in November – are examined. Narrative data can be sourced from any communication, such as text, video, or symbols. For this case, study data are generated through computational content analysis of the communication involved in the policy debate, including 5293 tweets that contain the word “abortion.”
Methodologically, the paper uses an advanced text-as-data approach, including structured topic modeling (Blei, Ng, and Jordan, 2003) and sentiment analysis (Silge & Robinson, 2017) to find out which kinds of narratives are told and which notion they convey. Specifically, the research focuses on what narratives were told before and after overturning Roe vs. Wade and what differences can be identified regarding their story type. While there have been first steps in using computational methods in the NPF analysis (Wolton, Crow & Heikkila, 2022; Guenduez & Mettler, 2022), the field still needs to be developed more.
The study’s hypothesis claims that there is a change in the narratives by Republicans as the Pew Research Center has found that most of the U.S. public disapproves of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe (Pew Research Center 2022). Thus, Republican representatives might have adjusted their narratives on abortion, particularly the story type, to gain voters in the midterm election.