Regulatory Rhetoric and Mediated Health Narratives Justifying Oversight in the Sherri Chessen Finkbine Thalidomide Story

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Madison A. Krall


During the summer of 1962, news media brought the issue of drug regulation to the public’s attention in a pivotal way when broadcasting journalists reported on Sherri Chessen Finkbine’s decision to terminate her pregnancy after taking sleeping pills containing thalidomide in her first trimester. In this analysis, I draw from New York Times and Arizona Republic coverage of Finkbine’s legal case to demonstrate how the media coverage surrounding Finkbine’s story supported through discursive justification the extensive regulation of women’s bodies in subsequent legislative initiatives. I argue that three argumentative warrants dominated the mediated narratives put forward by this coverage to situate women as: (1) inconsistent and hysterical; (2) overtly dependent on others for guidance and support; and (3) incapable of providing concrete cautionary counsel. Ultimately, I argue that these specific, mediated warrants functioned to define and contextualize regulation and regulatory discourse in the context of women’s health in the years to follow, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in the twenty-first century. 

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