Legal Abortion in the United States | Recent Reviews in LJ

With the May 3 news that the U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to reverse Roe v. Wade, which held that pregnant Americans have a constitutional right to choose abortion, readers might be looking for titles addressing the topic to contextualize the issue. Here are five titles, all recently reviewed in LJ.

Encyclopedia of Sex and Sexuality: Understanding Biology, Psychology, and Culture, ed. by Heather L. Armstrong. Greenwood. 2 vols. Feb. 2021. 859p. ISBN 9781610698740. $204. REF

Accurate information about sex and sexuality is always in demand; this two-volume encyclopedia edited by Armstrong (sexual health, Univ. of Southampton) will meet readers’ needs, with comprehensive information about all aspects of these fascinating and sometimes confusing topics. There are more than 40 thorough signed entries by academics and health professionals, which cover up-to-date research on a variety of subjects: sex in advertising, pioneers in the field (e.g., Alfred Kinsey), authors (e.g., Betty Dodson), contraception (e.g., birth control pills, cervical caps), sexual identity, gender identity, postmenopausal sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, books (The Joy of Sex; the Kama Sutra), and social and cultural issues (e.g., hookup culture, dating). Ranging in length from one to three pages, each entry offers works for further reading, but no illustrations—which would have been helpful for the articles about sex organs. Some topics are broken up into multiple entries; on abortion, for instance, readers will find entries for elective, late term, and medical abortion, as well as information on abortion legislation. VERDICT Users may want to consult more specialized sources for further information on a specific topic, but this is an excellent introduction to sex and sexuality for public and consumer health libraries.—Reviewed by Barbara Bibel

The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—Or Being Denied—an Abortion, by Diana Greene Foster. Scribner. Jun. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781982141561. $27. SOC SCI

In this debut, Foster (Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, Univ. of California, San Francisco) writes a comprehensive overview of abortion in the United States. At the same time, the organization of chapters that simultaneously foreground a significant issue and an individual women’s story keeps the narrative as human as it is informational. Foster has compiled ten years’ worth of research on women across 40 states and all ethnicities, yet never loses sight of that each woman’s story is her own. She meets women in the waiting rooms of abortion facilities and continues to follow-up with them for up to five years after. These stories can be difficult to read, but they help to counter myths surrounding the effects of abortion on mental and physical health, while exploring how women cope with living in poverty or unsafe environments. VERDICT Foster listens to the “turnaway women,” and lets their stories, even more than her own scholarship, disrupt the accepted moral and political narratives that regulate access to abortion.—Reviewed by Emily Bowles

redstarControlling Women: What We Must Do Now To Save Reproductive Freedom, by Kathryn Kolbert & Julie F. Kay. Hachette. Jul. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780306925634. $29. SOC SCI

Kolbert and Kay, both attorneys who have spent their legal careers in service of reproductive justice, co-author a concise and pragmatic discourse on abortion rights. Their book is neither reassuring nor despairing, and the authors outline steps for activists to take in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned by a conservative federal judiciary. Kolbert and Kay write that Roe’s overturn is an inevitability, not a fear or suspicion. Their book is not intended to convince anti-abortion stalwarts to change their minds; it is written as a blueprint for advocates of reproductive justice. The steps it outlines go beyond access to contraception or abortion clinics; taking a holistic approach, it emphasizes the need for universal health care and affordable child care. Kolbert and Kay note throughout the book that the people most impacted by a ban on abortion will be people of color and impoverished people in rural areas, as part of their argument that reproductive justice activism must factor in the needs of LGBTQ families and be trans-inclusive. VERDICT The authors make clear that the ability to determine for oneself how and when to bear children is a human right and is essential to a person’s agency over their own life and future. An essential guide; recommended for all collections.—Reviewed by Barrie Olmstead

Loved and Wanted: A Memoir of Choice, Children, and Womanhood, by Christa Parravani. Holt. Nov. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9781250756848. $26.99. SOC SCI

Parravani (Her: A Memoir) begins her luminous, complex story with a memory—one that is visceral, yet metaphoric and sets the tone for this work, which proves a welcome addition to women’s narratives with its willingness to address poverty, sexuality, spirituality, and the difficult choices women are forced to make when navigating oppressive systems. Parravani then moves from the childhood memory to the central narrative: an unplanned pregnancy at age 40 that she wanted to terminate but was unable to because of the ways in which health care and medical regulations in her home state deterred her until she ended up too far along into her pregnancy for an abortion to be an option. She eloquently tells of her marriage and raising two children on set incomes, along with the fears and worries of providing for an additional child. VERDICT In a time when the wars waged on women’s sexual bodies are happening in multiple, intersecting ways, especially through individual organizations and agencies’ attempts to stop women from asking for or receiving what they are legally allowed to request, Parravani’s story is cautionary and a call to action; as personal as it is political.—Reviewed by Emily Bowles

Bodies on the Line: At the Front Lines of the Fight To Protect Abortion in America, by Lauren Rankin. Counterpoint. Apr. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781640094741. $26. SOC SCI

This history of abortion clinic escorts in the United States by writer and activist Rankin is timely, engaging, and full of compassion. Clinic escorts help pregnant people seeking abortion care to safely enter a medical facility, often having to walk past aggressive anti-choice protestors. By taking on this responsibility to support health care, clinic escorts put themselves in harm’s way and are vulnerable to harassment and even violence. Almost all clinic escorts are volunteers, and Rankin argues that their stories illustrate the harmful tactics by which anti-choice activists target people seeking abortions, and also that dedicated clinic escorts have been critical in maintaining access to abortion. The volunteers whom Rankin spotlights come from across the U.S. and span nearly 50 years, beginning in the post-Roe 1970s, continuing through the “Operation Rescue” demonstrations of the 1980s and ’90s, and ending in 2021, when attacks on abortion access and the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic came together to create a uniquely hostile environment for abortion clinics. VERDICT This sweeping history will leave readers wanting to learn more. It is both a celebration of devoted volunteer clinic escorts and a call to action to improve the circumstances under which people seek health care.—Reviewed by Sarah Schroeder 

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