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Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha…

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

by Katha Pollitt

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Every so often, over the years, I come across a book that tremendously sharpens and solidifies my thoughts on significant issues that draw on my own values system. This is one such book. While the books subtitle implies that it is about abortion rights -- which is most certainly is -- it goes way beyond that to the role and rights of women in our society, and, of course, it does that because abortion rights cannot be separated from the total female experience. Make no mistake about it, the author covers abortion issues with laser-like efficiency, from every possible angle. As the book title states, she is "pro" -- but wait, "pro" what? She even gets into the various shades of what that means. Pro abortion, pro choice, pro death, pro what? But even as she presents the many "pro" arguments, she offers abundant "anti" views, and discusses them in great depth, never being too biased to state their merits, where merits exist. If I see any downsides to this tome, it comes in two areas. The first is that the second half of the book feels more relaxed and, thus, unfocused, compared to the first half. Part of that comes from the utter efficiency and clarity with which she "presents" her case. But just like the Q&A after many presentations gets stuck with audience questions that were amply answered during the presentation, there is a certain level of redundancy toward the end as she tries to fill any possible gaps in what came earlier. The second issue of concern is her lack of acknowledgment of the conservative right's faith-based arguments against abortion and woman having any rights in general. There is indeed a section dealing entirely with Bible verses, which she uses effectively against the "Anti" position. Also, at another point, the author points out how differently the liberal, more secular, science-based, pro community drives support for its "cause" versus the Christian faith-based anti community. What she skips over is how very differently the faith-based mind works. In its essence, faith says something exists for no other reason than because someone said "because I said so" and for no other reason. The book has great value for those who value science and logic. And it will give give values clarification to those who have religious foundations but still appreciate science and logic. But, let's face it, for a great many fundamentalists, this book will sail right over their heads, and be damned as the devil's work -- just because. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
I love Pollitt, so I knew I was going to love this book. I am so tired of all the hand-wringing way we talk about abortion in this country, and this book was a near-perfect antidote to that. I want to buy copies and press them into the hands of anti-choicers in my life. In the meantime, it's certainly changed the way I talk about abortion and reproductive justice issues. Not that I was so apologetic about it in the first place, but still.

Pair with Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy for straight talk perfection. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
After the shit show that was the (legislative side of the) election in the U.S. earlier this month, I needed to read a book that would both make me angry and inspire me. I hadn’t heard about this book before I saw it at our local bookstore, which surprises me, as I thought I was on all of the feminist killjoy mailing lists.

Pro is a well-researched, well-argued look at why abortion rights are so important. That “pro” stands for pro-choice, and it is explored from multiple directions and through different lenses. Ms. Pollitt’s main argument is that those who are “pro-life” aren’t actually pro-life, but more interested in policing the sexuality of women. This isn’t exactly ground-breaking; feminists have been saying this for years. But this book differs in that it lays out literally all of the arguments in favor of banning abortion (either at all stages of pregnancy, or at specific stages, or for different circumstances) and knocks each on down, showing the inconsistencies as well as the impacts these views have on very real women.

The book is over 200 pages long but it only has eight chapters, because each chapter is devoted to going really in-depth into an area of discussion. Early on she shares with us the data on U.S. views on abortion, and how they aren’t really that consistent with the actions U.S. voters support. She then explores the idea of “personhood,” and whether those who oppose abortion really do view the blastocyst, embryo, or first trimester fetus as a person with the same rights as the pregnant person (ultimately arguing that they don’t, because of the other actions they take). This is followed by an exploration of whether women are actually people, some myths about abortion, and then the concept that it isn’t so much abortion, but what abortion represents (woman’s increased control of her life) that pro-life people oppose. Finally, she ends with a look at why compromise isn’t actually an option, followed by what it would mean to truly support women as mothers.

The only problem I have with this book is one that I have with any book that talks about reproductive rights, and it is the complete lack of recognition of the trans issues involved. Yes, it is usually women who are the target of laws restricting abortion, but trans men can also get pregnant, and are victimized by these laws as well, and there’s just no mention of that.

The author claims the target audience of the book is people who aren’t really sure where they stand on the issue, and I agree that these folks might find this book interesting. I think it’s also great for those of us who are very clear on where we stand but could use a little additional education.
( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 9, 2017 |

It's the age-old hope that a single technological or scientific advance will once and for all resolve a social issue, a fantasy that means forgetting that the new thing will be embedded in the existing system and involve the existing human beings. (6)

We live, as Ellen Willis wrote, in a society that is "actively hostile to women's ambitions for a better life. Under these conditions the unwillingly pregnant woman faces a terrifying loss of control over her fate." Abortion, wrote Willis, is an act of self-defense. (8)

We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child - indeed, sometimes even more moral....Abortion is part of being a mother and of caring for children, because part of caring for children is knowing when it's not a good idea to bring them into the world. (16)

[Sherri Finkbine's story in Life magazine] presented an abortion-seeking woman as sympathetic, rational, and capable....The more exceptions there were to the criminalization of abortion, the more glaringly unfair and hypocritical the whole system was seen to be. (21)

We would never accept the kinds of restrictions on our other constitutional rights that we have allowed to hamper the right to end a pregnancy. (26)

The anti-abortion movement...has reframed the issue. It has placed the zygote/embryo/fetus at the moral center, while relegating women and their rights to the periphery. Over time, it has altered the way we talk about abortion and the way many people feel about it, even if they remain pro-choice. It has made abortion seem risky, when in fact it is remarkably safe - twelve to fourteen times safer than the alternative, which is continued pregnancy and childbirth. (27-28)

In every other area of life, we praise careful consideration, intentionality, and weighing options....Motherhood is the last area in which the qualities we usually value - rationality, independent thinking, consulting our own best interests, planning for a better, more prosperous future, and...pursuing happiness and dreams - are condemned as frivolity and selfishness. We certainly don't expect a man who accidentally impregnates a woman to drop everything and accept a life of difficulties and dimmed hopes in order to co-parent a baby. (43)

A Gallup poll found that 84% of respondents approve of permitting abortion to save the life of the woman. [That means that 16% of people are anti-abortion even when a woman's life is at stake!] (47)

Even as abortion becomes more and more restricted, gun rights expand - not even the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was able to turn the nation toward significant restrictions on the right to bear arms....Is this because the gun culture is predominantly male and we don't judge men's choices as much? (62)

...Medical science says pregnancy begins [at the stage of implantation, 6-12 days after fertilization, when the fertilized egg becomes a blastocyst with 70-100 cells] because medical science sees pregnancy as the changes a woman's body undergoes to produce a baby... (74)

The fact that the CDC thought in terms of protecting accidental fertilized eggs from women, and not protecting women from accidental fertilized eggs shows how shallow still is the idea of women truly being in control of their fertility. (94)(re 2006 guidelines for "preconception care")

...It is precisely because having a baby determines so much about a woman's life, and because women take maternal responsibilities so seriously, that they have abortions. (106)

How common is abortion regret? Study after study has found that having an abortion is not psychologically harmful: Any sadness it yields is usually transitory. Many women feel only relief. (107)

Your DNA is not you. It is more like the basic instructions for you. DNA is to a person what a blueprint is to a house. (74)

The ability to determine the timing and number of children undergirds the modern ideal of egalitarian, intimate marriages based on love, companionship, and mutual sexual delight....Since birth control is far from perfect, legal abortion is essential to this way of life. (113)(see: How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America by Cristina Page)

...There is no medical reason for a gynecological exam to get a prescription for the Pill, with an annual order to renew it....Doctors should focus on how to facilitate patients taking their pills without a break...not on how to use women's need for contraception to get them into the office. (114)

Why does it sound radical to call for the Pill to be nonprescription...? ...It's because we're in the wrong frame, the social-conservative one, in which it feels natural for women's sexuality (but not men's) to be monitored and regulated and worried about. (115)

Our way of life was designed by men, for men...the world of work is still organized around the ideal of the unencumbered always-available employee. Which sex would that be...? The sex with a wife at home. (116)

In western Europe, pronatalism is part of the reasoning behind strong government support for families, but in the U.S., pronatalists rarely propose the sort of robust social benefits that might make it easier for those who want more kids to have them: free tuition for parents returning to college, paid parental leave, free child care and after-school programs, subsidized housing, outright payments to families. (119)

...continuing a pregnancy is 12 to 14 times as potentially fatal as ending it. That means abortion is always potentially lifesaving for a pregnant woman. (136)

Today the Republican Party is not only the political home of the anti-abortion movement but of opposition to just about everything on the women's rights to-do list. (146)

The party that claims to care about babies cuts government programs that benefit pregnant women, infants, and children...And of course, the party that claims to care about "life" is tightly allied with the National Rifle Association. (147)

For the organized anti-choice movement, contraception and realistic sex education are not solutions to the problem of abortion. (154)

If the movement against legal abortion were not fundamentally an expression of particular religious doctrines and particular attitudes toward women and sex, we would find anti-abortion politicians seeking votes by supporting contraception as a common ground. (157)

Logically, abortion opponents should care about poverty. (157)

Indeed, there is an inverse relationship between support for abortion restrictions and support for programs that help low-income pregnant women, babies, and children. (158)

Why doesn't the [anti-abortion] movement use some of its famous political clout to pass laws compelling men who impregnate women to support them during pregnancy...? (161)

We may think we value mothers in America, but we don't. (194)

...the ability to end a pregnancy is deeper than a right: It is basic self-preservation. (195)

This cavalier attitude about childbearing and childrearing is an exaggerated version of the way motherhood is valued (or undervalued) by society generally. The whole world runs on women's unpaid or grossly underpaid labor, and it always has....And yet, if women rejected labor within the family, society would have to pay enormous sums to replace it. (196-197)

To a far greater degree than most other Western nations, we have decided that women should individually bear most of the consequences of becoming a parent. (199)

When you consider the way restrictions on abortion go hand in hand with cutbacks in social programs and stymied gender equality it is hard not to suspect that the aim is to put women and children back under male control by making it impossible for them to survive outside it. (200)

Why is the government pursuing policies that further impoverish poor women and their children? It's for the same reason our society has refused to adjust to working mothers, even to the extent of longer school days and afterschool programs, let alone publicly funded high-quality child care. Mothers are supposed to be supported by husbands... (204)

By some measures, the U.S. is one of the most unequal countries in the world. (212)

If the pro-choice movement's only focus is on helping women not have unwanted children, instead of also on making a fairer, more just society, then reproductive rights can feel like reproductive deprivation, as if motherhood is reserved for the prosperous. (213)

For those who are troubled by America's high abortion rate, the good news is that we already know what will lower it: more feminism. More justice. More equality. More freedom. More respect. Women should have what they need both to avoid unwanted pregnancy and childbirth and to have wanted children. For motherhood to truly be part of human flourishing, it has to be voluntary, and raising children - by both parents - has to be supported by society as necessary human work. Motherhood should add to a woman's ability to lead a full life, not leave her on the sidelines, wondering how she got there. (218) ( )
1 vote JennyArch | Apr 4, 2017 |
library copy ( )
  Kaethe | Oct 17, 2016 |
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Forty years after the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, "abortion" is still a word that is said with outright hostility by many, despite the fact that one in three American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy by menopause. Even those who support a woman's right to an abortion often qualify their support by saying abortion is a "bad thing," an "agonizing decision," making the medical procedure so remote and radioactive that it takes it out of the world of the everyday, turning an act that is normal and necessary into something shameful and secretive. Meanwhile, with each passing day, the rights upheld by the Supreme Court are being systematically eroded by state laws designed to end abortion outright. In this urgent, controversial book, Katha Pollitt reframes abortion as a common part of a woman's reproductive life, one that should be accepted as a moral right with positive social implications. In Pro , Pollitt takes on the personhood argument, reaffirms the priority of a woman's life and health, and discusses why terminating a pregnancy can be a force for good for women, families, and society. It is time, Pollitt argues, that we reclaim the lives and the rights of women and mothers.… (more)

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