Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Posted 2 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion RightsPro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt
Published by Picador on October 14th 2014
Genres: Abortion & Birth Control, Social Science, Women's Studies
Pages: 272

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A POWERFUL ARGUMENT FOR ABORTION AS A MORAL RIGHT AND SOCIAL GOOD BY A NOTED FEMINIST AND LONGTIME COLUMNIST FOR THE NATION. Forty years after the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, "abortion" is still a word that is said with outright hostility by many, despite the fact that one in three American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy by menopause. Even those who support a woman's right to an abortion often qualify their support by saying abortion is a "bad thing," an "agonizing decision," making the medical procedure so remote and radioactive that it takes it out of the world of the everyday, turning an act that is normal and necessary into something shameful and secretive. Meanwhile, with each passing day, the rights upheld by the Supreme Court are being systematically eroded by state laws designed to end abortion outright.In this urgent, controversial book, Katha Pollitt reframes abortion as a common part of a woman's reproductive life, one that should be accepted as a moral right with positive social implications. In Pro, Pollitt takes on the personhood argument, reaffirms the priority of a woman's life and health, and discusses why terminating a pregnancy can be a force for good for women, families, and society. It is time, Pollitt argues, that we reclaim the lives and the rights of women and mothers.

Holy poop on a stick, guys. I almost gave myself whiplash when I read this book. There was nodding and highlighting and more nodding and more highlighting. Pollitt nails it.

Clearly and concisely she lays out why abortion doesn’t have to be, nor should be, a scarlet letter upon women who have them. She speaks clearly on the anti-choice movement and breaks down the ‘true believers’ from those who would limit abortions to limit the upward mobility of women. 

First, the concept of personhood as applied to the zygote, blastocyst, embryo and, at least until late in the pregnancy, fetus makes no sense: it’s an incoherent covertly religious idea that falls apart if you look at it closely. Few people actually believe it, as is shown by the exceptions they are willing to make.

I thought about this statement for a little bit and then I realized how much truth it had in it. If anti-choicers rabidly believe in life at conception – then life is life right? Rape and incest should be excluded exceptions, right? I’m not saying that there aren’t true believers out there who would love to exclude rape and incest as a means for abortion, however I think, (hope, pray) that if you asked the majority of anti-choicers whether rape and incest were valid reasons to ‘allow’ a woman an abortion, they would say ‘Absolutely.’

Indeed, it makes my stomach churn to think of a world full of ‘true believers’ in the personhood movement. (As a book blogger I must give you a hint and tell you it looks a lot like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.)

Pollitt makes demands on her own audience as well:

I want us to start thinking of abortion as a positive social good and saying this out loud. […] I want to argue… that it is an essential option for women – not just ones in dramatic, terrible, body-and-soul-destroying situations, but all women – and thus benefits society as a whole. 

Whoa. “Abortion as a positive social good…”? Yes. I will stand up and say that abortion is a positive social good.

Pollitt explores the terrible things that happen to women in countries where abortion is completely illegal (IRELAND), the lack of proper sex education here in the U.S. and how the anti-choice movement is weirdly at odds with both proper sex education for our youth and contraception – both which have been shown to reduce unwanted pregnancies (and therefore abortions) by a large margin in the youth population. If they hate abortion so much, how come they block the most effective ways to prevent it?

But the most remarkable part of this book is where Pollitt unpacks something that I’ve long known was there, but have been unable to express.

Motherhood is the last area in which the qualities we usually value – rationality, independent thinking, consulting our own best interests, planning for a better, more prosperous future, and dare I say it, pursuing happiness and dreams – are condemned as frivolity and selfishness. […] We don’t like the idea that a man might be severely constrained by a single ejaculation. He has places to go and things to do. That a woman’s life may be stunted by unwanted childbearing is not so troubling. Childbearing, after all, is what women are for.

…and there it is, right there. The notion in the anti-choice movement, whether they be true believers (who I can empathize a little more with) or people who consciously (or unconsciously) have a desire to keep women “in their place” that all women must be desiring (and able to care for) a child at all times is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age.

Let’s get a little personal. I had my one and only daughter during my second year of law school. I was one of the thousands (millions?) of women who had used her birth control properly and had seen it fail. I didn’t particularly want a child at that time in my life and while I’ve always been pro-choice I used the conventional logic that I was “too old, too married, and too financially stable to justify an abortion”. My daughter is delightful, but it’s been a hard road – especially for a woman who never wanted children to begin with. I’m lucky to have a spouse who takes on childcare-type things 50/50 (maybe even 60/40 in his favor sometimes) and that I am white and middle class.


The Girl was maaaaaybe six? seven months old when I was told that the birth control that I had resumed had failed again (Nuva Ring, ladies – it sucks) I was pregnant again – still in law school, now with an infant, oh and by the way – it was twins.  I was devastated. All  the work I had put into law school – down the drain. Two more babies and there was no way I could continue law school at that point in time – and I had already fought so hard to be there. But, all of my rationalizations against abortion were still there – I wasn’t seventeen, I couldn’t really justify one, could I?

I went so far as to call Planned Parenthood and see if there was anything that could be done. I was inching up closer to that cutoff mark and needed to make a decision, plus the 24 hour waiting period that was in place at the time. I didn’t believe in the idea of life at conception but at the same time society – even liberal society – had hammered the idea that abortion was so bad, so immoral how could I even consider such a thing? But I wanted one. I did. It’s also important to note that my husband backed me up on whatever I wanted to do, but was also leaning towards an abortion.

In the end I was saved the decision when my body decided for me and had a spontaneous abortion (see also: miscarriage). The relief that I felt was palpable. When I talk about it, it’s still palpable. To have had twins (and an infant) at that point in my life would have destroyed everything I had been working so hard for up to that point.

Had I read Pollitt’s book then, I might have had a different perspective on an abortion than I had at the time, and while I feel that I never would have regretted the decision had I had to make it – I’m not sure I could’ve made it. With this book I could have made it and not felt remotely ashamed about it.

Yet this is not my story alone. Every year thousands of women, many who are already mothers, many who are far more unfortunate than me, have failed birth control and lack the ability and/or the resources to bring another child into this world. After being denied an abortion because of arbitrary waiting times, or the inability to get the money together to have the procedure actually done – these women are forced to bring a life into the world that they may neither be competent nor financially able to care for. Where are the anti-choicers (the so-called pro-lifers) then? Dare I say cutting funding from WIC, food stamps, and Medicaid?

Pollitt points out the classist and sexist attitudes that both the left and the right have taken towards abortion, adoption, and contraception. She stresses the need to change our language and rhetoric in order to change the conversation. More often than not abortion is not the tragic, awful thing that anti-choicers would like the rest of us believe that it is.

One final point that Pollitt makes and then I’ll let this rest, the law, as it is currently written cannot compel a parent to give so much as a blood transfusion to a living child. Why is it more acceptable under the law to require a mother to be a walking incubator for nine months if she chooses not to? How does one resolve the two? Short answer: you can’t.

One last quote for the road and to possibly really piss you off:

And what about the Second Amendment? If abortion is different because it’s about life and death, so too, potentially, are guns, yet we seem positively loath to examine people’s reasons for wanting to own them. Any old wave in the direction of an explanation is good enough — “they’re fun,” “they’re part of our tradition down here,” “I’m a collector.” And unlike abortion, guns kill more than 32,000 actually existing people every year.

This has been a deep and harrowing post, Reader. So I won’t pose any questions. Feel free to air all opinions (for and against) here – respectful dissent is always encouraged.

April @ The Steadfast Reader


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