Date of Award

Fall 12-16-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Carrie Packwood Freeman, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Natalie T.J. Tindall, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Benjamin T. Russell, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Harry J. Heiman, M.D.


A new, interdisciplinary crisis communication model is a needed tool to aid organizations in cohesively combining message frames that reflect a health communication, sociological, and public relations lens. While most would agree that the health care access options for abortion and birth control (and women’s sexual and reproductive health care broadly) are in the midst of ideological, cultural, political, and health care crises, there is a deeper implication for the functional application of crisis communication tactics – particularly for practitioners that seek to support the health and wellness needs of women. Organizations of this type have a layered, mission-directed mandate to: protect the public’s health; lead health promotion and education initiatives; advocate in the best interest of the consumer; and maintain the public’s trust. These aims are even more challenging to meet in today’s noisy digital landscape. This research offers a 16-construct, redefined model for crisis communication, aptly named “The Henrietta Hypothesis” in commemoration of Henrietta Lacks’ iconic healthcare case. To demonstrate the model’s utility as a normative benchmark, the study examines a case study by critiquing social media strategies used by Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), a leading women’s health care provider in the U.S. during notable, historical crises -- specifically, a case analysis spanning 2012 – 2019, profiling three (3) crisis types common within the supporting disciplines: public relations (attacks on a corporate brand, such as reputational or fiscal), sociological (affecting public perception and cultural norms), and epidemiological (impacting patient healthcare access).

Results provide justification for an interdisciplinary approach for crisis communication response in women’s health. Specifically, framing strategies seeking to protect the organization’s reputation should be a permanent tactic and, in terms of patient advocacy, frames that document the human impact and safeguard the public are also essential components of established crisis response playbooks in women’s health. Further, combining message frames – in a way that pairs messages of brand protection with public engagement prompts - is a tactic uniquely afforded on social media. The conceptual framework offers a starting (or reference) point that can potentially standardize the way crisis communication response is managed at women’s health organizations.


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