7 Books About Why We Need to Normalize Abortion
Amelia Bonow, author of “Shout Your Abortion,” recommends reading on the importance of reproductive rights
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Today, Roe vs. Wade turns 46 years old. The landmark piece of legislation may not see its 47th birthday, it spite of the fact that 71% of Americans support abortion rights and one in four people who can get pregnant will have at least one abortion in their lifetime. And whether or not Roe survives, the GOP will continue to decimate access at the state level, doing their best to ensure that reproductive freedom remains an economic privilege, afforded to their wives and mistresses. They’ll leave the rest of us to die.
Beginning about 20 years ago, evangelicals hijacked the discourse about abortion and redefined the terms: abortion is murder, providers are serial killers, Planned Parenthood has cornered the black market on baby brains. The pro-choice movement pivoted to the defense, and in doing so, lost the ability to advocate for abortion in any sort of compelling way. The price to enter the conversation as someone who has actually had an abortion became impossibly high. And until recently, the vast majority of pro-choice voices have declined to root their own convictions in any personal experience.
In 2015, my own abortion disclosure ignited a viral outpouring of stories via the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. Shout Your Abortion has subsequently evolved into a movement and a full-fledged organization, working to create places in art, media and real-life events all over the country for people to talk about their abortion experiences. SYA is not just for people who’ve had abortions, and people who have had abortions are not simply deciding to shout about them for their own personal empowerment; we’re doing this for everyone. The prevailing silence is toxic for everyone. And this whole country will go up in flames without abortion access. We’ll never be able to fight for it unless we learn to talk about it.
Legislatively, this hellscape does not match mainstream needs or values. Culturally, even those of us who are strongly pro-choice are often completely uncomfortable talking about abortion. The subject has been conspicuously avoided in art, literature, and in the conversations we have with the people we love. As a result, we’ve failed to develop any understanding of what abortion actually is, and how it works in peoples’ lives. Our collective perception lacks human touchstones, and people do not find empathy in theoretical exercises.
It’s a minefield of a conversation; they built it that way on purpose to keep us out. This reading list compiles work from my friends and colleagues intended to help you find your way in, and start getting comfortable with reality.
Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker
Dr. Willie Parker made his way out of southern poverty and became an OB-GYN with a faculty appointment at the University of Hawaii. A man of deep faith, Dr. Parker avoided performing abortions until 2002 when he had a revelation that lack of abortion care in the deep south was causing people to suffer. Today, Dr. Parker is one of the most vocal, visible providers in his field, guided by an absolute conviction that he is doing the Lord’s work and serving the most disenfranchised people in the country. Life’s Work is a philosophical memoir containing field notes from an unfathomably demonized profession. If you do Christmas with anti-choice relatives, give them this book.
Handbook for a Post-Roe America by Robin Marty
The GOP has decimated access to abortion in recent years, and now, 46 years after its passage, Roe v. Wade is on the precipice of reversal and the Supreme Court will take a generation to un-fuck. How do we fight when things are this bad? Activist and writer Robin Marty breaks it down by walking readers through worst-case scenarios of a post-Roe America, and offering individualized, pragmatic paths to join the fight no matter what you’re working with. Marty doesn’t shy away from topics like self-managed abortion care, and how to avoid surveillance if you or someone you know is accessing abortion outside of federal regulation. The book includes an extensive resource guide with clinics, action groups, abortion funds, and practical support groups in each state.
Shrill by Lindy West
Weeks before she submitted this manuscript, Lindy West and I inadvertently exploded the internet by talking about our abortions. I’m not sure if Lindy would have included “When Life Gives You Lemons,” otherwise, but I’m sure glad she did. Lindy writes about her relatively unremarkable abortion in a way that is typically disarming, entirely human, and totally normal.
In Like a Mother, Angela Garbes wonders why doctors don’t trust pregnant women enough to tell them the truth about what is really going on. Garbes is a journalist, a researcher, and a mother, who has terminated one pregnancy and who lost another one she was trying to keep. Her writing is visceral and gorgeous, and this book is absolutely singular, equally scientific and intimate, posing questions many of us have found ourselves wondering while feeling as though we were the only ones to wonder.
The Abortion by Richard Brautigan
In this “historical romance,” Brautigan the librarian meets Vida, the most beautiful woman to ever live. He knocks her up and she has an abortion in Tijuana. When I read this book fifteen years ago, I thought it was the horniest, sweetest book I’d ever read. I’m never reading it again.
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts
One cannot responsibly claim to have formulated an opinion on any reproductive issue — from abortion, to birth control, to IVF — without knowledge of the systematic medical abuse of Black women’s bodies in America. Roberts is a brilliant theorist and historian but draws cultural conclusions which feel as relevant and foundational as they did 25 years ago. White women who believe themselves to be fiercely pro-choice absolutely must develop a capacity for complex racial analysis and this book is critical context.
My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel
Another reason we need volumes like the above is because of treasures like this one. Zindel wrote problem novels — novels for young adults tied to social ills that delivered a pat, if not patronizing solution. Afterschool specials in book form. MDMH was noteworthy because it was the first time I remember reading about abortion, and abortion was the heavy-handed punishment dealt bad girl Liz for having sex with her boyfriend, Sean. Sean was all set to run away with Liz until his alcoholic dad counseled him to ditch her lest teenage fatherhood ruined his future (no mention of Liz’s life, naturally). Sean gives Liz $300, but doesn’t take her to the clinic (foreshadowing of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and so many other books and movies that underscored that boys were not to be trusted), and Liz misses prom, graduation, and nearly bleeds to death. The message was clear: I was on my own.