Opportunistic legislation under a natural emergency: Grabbing government power in a democracy during COVID-19

Udi Sommer, Jonathan Parent, Quan Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With increasingly frequent emergencies related to pandemics, climate change, or any other as yet unforeseen disaster, it is imperative to develop our understanding of how opportunistic legislation and policy grabs may appear even in democracies. Circumventing a lengthy process of public debate and government regulation, declaration of emergency may be conducive to such opportunism. Underlying mechanisms may involve national interest groups, whereby early in the pandemic a group quickly develops a messaging strategy focused on broad public health concerns. This strategy is then implemented by state affiliates lobbying local officials and mobilizing their supporters to push executive branch officials to effectuate restrictions. We examine state-level abortion restrictions during the outbreak of COVID-19. Our Qualitative Comparative Analyses indicate that at least in the political context of reproductive rights and under the emergency of COVID-19, it was level of emergency, levels of religiosity in the state and Republican dominance in government that strongly predicted the likelihood of opportunistic legislation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-287
Number of pages18
JournalRegulation and Governance
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • COVID-19
  • democracy
  • opportunistic legislation
  • pandemic politics
  • policy grabs
  • political emergency

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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