Roe v. Wade 

As Americans await the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, these books consider the history of abortion in the US.

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Before Roe v. Wade: voices that shaped the abortion debate before the Supreme Court’s ruling, ed. by Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel. Kaplan, 2010. 335p ISBN 1607146711, $26.00; ISBN 9781607146711, $26.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2011

For those who were part of the 1960s and 1970s, the editors have captured the essence of society at the time in this book that reminds readers of the challenging conditions women faced. Although both Greenhouse (a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist) and Siegel (Yale Law School) freely admit to being pro-choice, they have managed to present an unbiased, honest look at this coming-of-age era in the history of the US. The research involved in the collection of the numerous documents represented in this work is astounding. Americans who lived through these times will become aware of all the behind-the-scenes work on both sides of the abortion debate that was hinted at but not fully revealed until the publication of this outstanding work. No matter what their personal beliefs, readers will find here a trove of factual information in the form of dozens of primary sources, gathered by two editors who undertook a difficult task. This volume will appeal to general readers who came of age during the 1960s-70s, to those too young to have experienced these decades, and to those with a personal or professional interest in the history of law in the US. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through professionals/practitioners; general readers. —N. J. Goodman, University of Texas-Pan American

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Burns, Gene. The moral veto: framing contraception, abortion, and cultural pluralism in the United States. Cambridge, 2005. 340p ISBN 0521552095, $70.00; ISBN 0521609844 pbk, $24.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2006

Sociologist Burns (James Madison College, Michigan State Univ.) brings together history, understanding of culture, linguistics, economics, sociological theory, and political science to provide an understanding of debates about contraception and abortion prior to Roe v. Wade and subsequent to that Supreme Court ruling. Burns uses the concepts of frames–bridging frames that enable people to “see the other side” and, though they may not agree, come to a common orientation–to provide a significant addition to an understanding of how groups with differing perceptions are brought together to share a common definition of a situation despite a difference in group orientations. Frames limit but also extend moral vision by widening discussion between groups displaying different perceptions of “the good.” Chapters consider contraception and abortion within a medical, humanitarian frame, unsuccessful frames, legislative stalemates, and the notion that cultural pluralism cannot be forced but can be facilitated. A recent New York Times Magazine article, “The Framing Wars” (July 17, 2005, p. 38), explores the politics and language work of linguist Gene Lakoff and his politically oriented brief volume Don’t Think of an Elephant! (2004), suggesting the importance of frame analysis in current linguistic and social science discourse. Burns contributes significantly to this discourse, and his volume deserves a prominent place in the framing discussion. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Most levels/libraries. —L. Braude, SUNY Fredonia

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Cline, David P. Creating choice: a community responds to the need for abortion and birth control, 1961-1973. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 290p ISBN 1403968136, $69.95; ISBN 1403968144 pbk, $23.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2007

Cline’s book of edited oral histories grew out of a collaborative oral history project by Western Massachusetts academic and community women to celebrate 30 years of feminist and lesbian history in this socially conservative region. The book’s title embodies its two major and contradictory themes: that while there was a geographical “community” and some individuals who networked the groups and individuals, the groups worked largely in isolation from one another because of the need for secrecy; and although almost all of those interviewed emphasized empowering women by giving them greater “choice,” most attention and activity focused on gaining access to safe abortions. Others have published women’s stories of their pre-Roe v. Wade criminalized abortion experiences. Cline is unique for including interviews with clergy members, doctors, and nurses who worked against the law to help women gain access to birth control and abortion rights. A highly readable book. As one interviewee said, “What I remember most … is how remarkable individual women’s stories were.” Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —S. S. Arpad, California State University, Fresno

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Dixon-Mueller, Ruth. Abortion & common sense, by Ruth Dixon-Mueller and Paul K.B. Dagg. Xlibris, 2003. 298p ISBN 1401059554, $28.79; ISBN 1401059546 pbk, $18.69; ISBN 1-4010-5956-2 ebook, $8.00. 
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2003

Dixon-Mueller (formerly, sociology, Univ. of California, Davis) and Dagg (psychiatry, Univ. of Ottawa) have prepared an extremely well organized, very readable, well argued, and well supported resource, with carefully selected quotations, excerpts, or statistics on almost every page, chapter notes, list of pro-choice organizations, and references. The book is divided into two parts–private lives and public settings–then further subdivided into regulating fertility, making the decision, procedure, psychological consequences and myth of regret, law, medical profession, private opinion and public debate, and safe abortion as a global issue. This important and succinct historical review offers factual reporting and balanced perspective on topics that continue to be controversial, confusing, and misrepresented, i.e., contraception, unwanted pregnancy, “abortion pills,” right-to-life of the unborn, Roe v. Wade, “conscience clause,” women’s rights, etc. There is much comparison between policies and practice in the US and Canada, but also coverage of cultural, religious, and health concerns in Asia, Africa, Europe, Central and South America, and Mexico. Summing Up: Essential. All college and university libraries; all levels. —E. R. Paterson, SUNY College at Cortland

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Fessler, Ann. The girls who went away: the hidden history of women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe v. Wade. Penguin, 2006. 354p ISBN 1594200947, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2006

In a delicately balanced synthesis of oral history and scholarly research, Fessler (photography, Rhode Island School of Design) reveals the hidden history of young women who were coerced against their will to relinquish their newborn children in the years preceding Roe v. Wade. The author opens the door on a little-known social-historical era by providing firsthand accounts of several women (chosen from Fessler’s more than 100 personal interviews) who are still haunted by relinquishment of their children and who continue to suffer the consequences–not just of the relinquishment, but of the social requirement to keep it secret. The foundation for telling their stories is laid by providing the social history whence these stories are embedded. Ensconced in an era with the idealized vision of postwar familial “perfection,” deeply rooted sexual double standards, and the need for babies for adoption, these women were caught up in a historical period that had a profound lifetime impact on them because of the society that refused to acknowledge them. Eerily evocative of the The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), this story is true. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Family studies, social history, women’s studies, psychology, counseling, and social work collections, all levels. —P. M. Salela, University of Illinois at Springfield

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Freedman, Lori. Willing and unable: doctor’s constraints in abortion care. Vanderbilt, 2010. 186p ISBN 9780826517142, $59.95; ISBN 9780826517159 pbk, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2011

Most surveys of applied ethics issues in the US include extensive discussions of the various perspectives surrounding the abortion debate. Since Roe v. Wade (1973), pro-choice positions have based arguments on considerations of the nature of human personhood or on the status of women’s rights to self-determination, while pro-lifers have appealed to species-specific privileges or divine proclamations regarding human status. What has not always been captured is the “living history” of the debate. Freedman (Univ. of California, San Francisco) does just this. This bioethical work offers a sociology of morality as it applies to the abortion debate. Its empirical basis highlights the multilevel structural barriers to abortion practice in the contemporary US. These barriers are not “thin”; they have deep underlying social, political, cultural, psychological, religious, and philosophical underpinnings. Armed with ample case studies and testimonials, Freedman liberates the debate from bias and puts a real face on its costs. A glossary and extensive notes help make this volume a must read for anyone interested in this important issue, especially hospital ethics committees and administrators. Whether pro-choice or pro-life, readers will benefit from the authentic face that Freedman provides for this sociopolitically charged topic. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through professionals/practitioners; general readers. —H. Storl, Augustana College (IL)

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Schoen, Johanna. Abortion after Roe. North Carolina, 2015. 334p bibl index afp ISBN 9781469621180, $35.00; ISBN 9781469623344 ebook, $34.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2016

As the author correctly points out, Roe v. Wade, the 1973 US Supreme Court decision that decriminalized abortion, marked the beginning rather than the end of anti-abortion fanaticism.  Using extensive archival information as well as personal interviews with abortion providers, historian Schoen (Rutgers) constructs a powerful, often deeply disturbing account of the experiences of clinic personnel and others striving to provide a full range of reproductive options to women in the face of violent opposition.  Schoen begins her narrative with the 1974 arrest of African American physician Kenneth Edelin, initially convicted of manslaughter for aborting a 20- or 21-week-old fetus (the judgment was later overturned).  She ends with the 2007 Supreme Court ruling Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the ban on so-called partial birth abortion (more accurately termed intact D&E) enacted in 2003.  Schoen chronicles disagreements among abortion providers concerning how to respond to increasingly violent attacks on clinic personnel as well as their clients, the attempts of some feminist organizations (including NARAL) to distance themselves from the abortionists and the medical details of abortion techniques, the crossover of membership of some of the most fanatic and murderous abortion opponents with white supremacist groups, and so on. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —A. H. Koblitz, Arizona State University

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Solinger, Rickie. The abortionist: a woman against the law. 1st paperback ed. California, 2019. 271p bibl ISBN 9780520322820, $27.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2020

An independent historian, Solinger has consistently produced groundbreaking books on abortion, adoption, and reproductive politics for over two decades. In this updated 25th-anniversary edition of her classic work The Abortionist (1994), she recounts the biography of abortion provider Ruth Barnett as a means to present a broader history of abortion in the pre–Roe v. Wade years. In the first half of the 20th century, Solinger argues, abortionists like Barnett were able to provide safe abortions in sanitary environments in part because their practices, albeit illegal, were tolerated as a necessary service. When politicians, legal authorities, and journalists began to expose and crack down on abortion during the prosperous postwar years, the women who sought out abortions and the largely female abortionists who provided them became subject to scrutiny, scorn, and prosecution, putting their lives and livelihoods at risk. This updated edition includes a new final chapter that contextualizes the current state of abortion rights, reproductive politics, and new efforts to undermine and overturn Roe v. Wade. This is essential reading for students of American history and women’s, sexuality, and gender studies. Summing Up: Essential. All readership levels. —L. J. Martin, Penn State University, Berks