The field of reproductive rights is a hard thing to start researching. Anti-choice activists love to move the goalposts by changing what their main objections to abortion are — Fetal pain! Women’s mental health! The breakdown of the nuclear family! Sexual promiscuity!) — and change the definition of words (a “partial birth abortion” does not exist. A fetus is not a baby–yet.).
There are legal, scientific, and theological debates being argued about contraception, each with their own nuances. Luckily for me, and therefore for you, there is a lot of very, very smart writing out there about reproductive rights & women’s bodily autonomy. I pulled together five favorite books on reproductive rights from my bookshelf to yours.
If you want books that tell women to “take responsibility for their actions” (as though an accidental pregnancy is a broken vase you need to fess up to & pay for) or those that start with a biblical foundation, this isn’t the reading list for you. When a fetus’ heart starts beating isn’t a concern in these books. This isn’t an ~objective~ list, but it does aim to be comprehensive.
Intimate Wars: The Life & Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room
Everyone you’ve ever called a “bad bitch” pales in comparison to Merle Hoffman, and I’m not just saying that because I volunteer at her groundbreaking clinic, Choices. Hoffman has a giant coat hanger in her office that she used to take to protests, and she opened Choices in NY two years before Roe v. Wade was decided. Hoffman is a huge patient advocate, and this book is a mix of her memoirs and the history of the on-going abortion-rights battle in the US.
For a long time, I was “moderate” on reproductive rights–it’s that comfortable, safe-for-watercooler stance where, oh, of course abortion should be legal, but let’s be level-headed about this, it should only be for certain reasons within a certain time frame and women have to have certain feelings about their person abortions.
Pro sold me on abortion on demand, without apology, and government funded. Pollitt makes a strong case for no longer compromising on abortion rights, and rebukes the “moderate” stance that has slippery-sloped the United States into some serious prohibitive legislative bullshit.
When you start clinic escorting at the one I volunteer at, you get a schpiel about how you shouldn’t use your real name on the street, because the antis like to find out who you are, and harass you. They did this to a woman who was a teacher, calling the school and her family. That behavior probably doesn’t jive with the widespread image of abortion protestors as kind old ladies with rosaries, but it’s actually the least of what abortion providers have to deal with. Bullet proof vests, online stalking, doxxing, SWATing, it’s all there, and it’s not a protest: it’s terrorism.
I really wanted to keep this list exclusively books with at least one female author (because #misandry) but this book was too good. It’s narrative non-fiction, spanning the scientific and social shifts that led to the birth control pill, but it basically reads like a thriller. As an added bonus, it provides some context for those “Margaret Sanger was a racist!!!” accusations you hear all the time.
Abortion providers are in incredibly short supply (which isn’t surprising, I guess, since they keep getting shot, censored, and otherwise threatened), but Dr. Wicklund’s memoir made me wish I had spent my undergrad in pre-med instead of medieval history.
She grew up in rural Wisconsin and after having a painful abortion of her own, she became an abortion provider. She flies all over the US, visiting abortion clinics in different states while wearing Kevlar and carrying a gun. If you’re under the impression that all abortion providers are unsafe sadists a la Kermit Gosnell, or if you just feel like getting inspired by a woman doing one of the most fraught jobs in the word with surprising grace, you’ll devour this book in a day.