Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Book cover: Pro by Katha PollittToday marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade; before that, illegal abortions claimed the lives or the fertility of thousands of women around the United States. But though abortion has been safe and legal for decades, the battle over abortion access wages on. In Texas, for instance, there were 41 clinics providing abortion services. After the Texas legislature pushed the abortion omnibus through, we now only have 17, and most of those are only open pending an appeal currently in court; that decision is expected within the coming few months.

In Pro, Katha Pollitt puts her foot down and says enough is enough. All too often, because of pro-choice complacency or weak messaging or whatever, anti-choice narratives have shaped the abortion debate. The debate is all about the hypothetical baby, even though two-thirds of all abortions happen before the eight-week mark of pregnancy (the embryo stage). Women’s voices are only valid if they say they regret abortion — the scientifically refuted Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome (PAS) is often brought up to scare and shame people — while those who are vocal about their abortions bringing them emotional or financial relief are dismissed (they’re in denial but will experience PAS eventually, you know).

In her introduction, Pollitt writes of pro-choice complacency:

For many years, pundits dismissed the notion that abortion would ever be significantly restricted, and mocked as Chicken Littles pro-choicers who warned that both rights and access were at risk, and contraception, too. The conventional wisdom help the Republican Party would not risk waking the sleeping giant that is the middle-of-the-road more-or-less-pro-choice voter. Now we’re seeing the Chicken Littles were right. Where is that giant?…It’s the millions of pro-choice Americans who are so far uninvolved (and still complacent) that will ultimately decide the fate of legal abortion in this country.

It’s past time for the giant to rise.

What I love about this book is that Pollitt is as cut-the-bullshit as possible. “Pro-life?” “Pro-lifer?” Nah. Anti-choice. Period.

“Pro-life” encodes too much propaganda for me: that a fertilized egg is a life in the same sense that a woman is, that is has a right to life as she does, that outlawing abortion saves lives, that abortion is the chief threat to “life” today, and that the movement to ban abortion is motivated solely by these concerns and not also by the wish to restrict sexual freedom, enforce sectarian religious views on a pluralistic society, and return women to traditional roles.

Bam. YES.

The book appeals to logic and is meant for those middle-of-the-road people who aren’t ready or willing to say, “I support a person’s right to choose abortion.” Because the thing is, when pushed to confront — really confront — their own views on abortion, most people are pro-choice.

My mother, for instance, is one of those pro-life-except-it’s-a-really-hard-choice-and-it’s-no-one’s-business-and-people-shouldn’t-harass-anyone-and-it-should-stay-safe-and-who-am-I-to-tell-anyone-what-to-do type of people. Pro-choice, even though she doesn’t realize it until she talks it through. It’s when we have nuanced discussions that she actually realizes it. And a lot of people are like her.

Most people think that Savita Halappanavar should have been granted the abortion that would have saved her life and that Marlise Munoz should have had her wishes honored and been taken off life support rather than be forced to serve as an incubator for an unsustainable pregnancy while her body withered away. Most people agree that victims of rape should be allowed to have an abortion. If a fire broke out at a fertility clinic and a firefighter chose to save a bunch of fertilized eggs rather than one actual child crying in a corner, most people would probably not think that the firefighter did the right thing in saving more “lives.”

Pro teases out the myriad of reasons why a person might need an abortion and follows anti-choice arguments out to their conclusions: what does it really mean when you say you’re pro-life? What are you really saying when you say there should be exceptions for abortion, but that it should mostly be illegal? Her points are salient and accessible; she just lays it all on the table and proceeds with logic. It’s one of the best books on abortion that I’ve read, and if there’s one book on the subject that I wish I could make everyone read, it’s this one.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion rights was released in October 2014 by Picador, an imprint of MacMillan.

Goodreads | Amazon
I read it as a(n): Hardcover
Source: Purchase
Pages: 258

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2 comments

  1. Alison

    I was thinking about reading this one but have been on the fence. I generally like Pollitt a lot, but occasionally she does venture into “young people don’t care and aren’t doing anything” territory. I was concerned there would be that kind of invisibility of young activists in the book – did you find any of that, or does it give respect and recognition to all the various groups, from the big national upper-middle-class-white-lady organizations down to smaller, grassroots, WOC-led ones too?

  2. Louise

    Do you think that this is something that a fence-sitter (pro-life-except-actually-pro-choice, like my own mother as well as yours) would actually pick up and be able to read without feeling defensive or overwhelmed? Or is this something that a pro-choice person should read in hopes of being better able to manage those difficult conversations with said fence-sitters?

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