Miss America Used to Ban Abortion—And Still Bans Moms, Wives, and Divorcées
In September of 1999, the Associated Press reported on a shocking national development: The Miss America Pageant would lift its long-standing ban that disqualified contestants who’d been divorced or gotten an abortion.
Since 1950, the Miss America Organization (MAO) had required entrants to sign a contract stating that they had never been married or pregnant. Forty-nine years later, the organization’s newly appointed CEO Robert Beck sought to overturn that ban, instead requiring contestants to assure that they weren’t currently married, pregnant, or the “natural or adoptive parent of any child.”
The change reportedly came at the recommendation of an attorney, who advised that the policy could be in violation of New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws. (The pageant is held annually in Atlantic City.) But despite this seemingly logical rationale, the proposed changes were met with swift and decisive backlash: “Miss America has a long history of high moral standards and traditions, and I’m opposed to anything that changes that,” Libby Taylor, the president of the National Association of Miss America State Pageants, told the AP. Several current and former contestants publicly lamented that lifting the ban would change the pageant for the worse, and somehow deprive Americans of good role models.
The individual state chapters of MAO sued their parent organization in an effort to maintain the ban, and the national organization acquiesced, delaying the policy change for a year. Then, two weeks later, Robert Beck was fired.