January 22, 2016 marks the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that guaranteed women's rights to safe, legal abortion. It has not gone unchallenged. Since 1973, lawmakers have passed more than 1,000 restrictions to abortion access, including laws that require women to wait days between consultation and procedure, and those that leave some states with only a few clinics — spaced hundreds of miles apart.
Although we're still standing with Planned Parenthood in opposition to harmful anti-choice propaganda, that's a small price to protect one of the most important moments in women's history. In 1973, only four states had post-Roe-like abortion laws: Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and Washington. According to Freakonomics, Roe helped cut crime rates in the 1990s, because it made abortion available to impoverished women facing unwanted pregnancies.
Today, women shout their abortions to fight social stigma and remind us that one in three women will terminate a pregnancy by the age of 45. They go public with their stories of pre-Roe terminations to show younger women how important it is that we are never forced to go back to back alleys and coat hangers. It's a great start, but we need more.
We need more accurate abortion stories. Films and television portray abortion as a deadly procedure. Nine percent of fictional women who receive a legal abortion will die from a complication, but the statistical likelihood of that actually happening is zero.
The situation isn't much better in the book world. As Book Riot's Jessica Tripler points out, "if a [book] character has an abortion, she’s frightened, ashamed, and suffers devastating consequences." We need diverse books, and that includes books with accurate depictions of abortions.
Many of the novels on this list fit that bill. Also included are memoirs and nonfiction titles that deal with life before and after Roe v. Wade. On this Roe Day, devote some time to reading abortion-related books, and share your recommendations on social media using the #RoeVWade hashtag or #Roe43.
1. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem dedicated her 2015 memoir, My Life on the Road, to the doctor who performed her illegal abortion in 1957: "Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I've done the best I could with my life. This book is for you."
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The abortion in The Perks of Being a Wallflower happens almost in the background, but it's part of a powerful denouement that earns the novel a place on this list.
3. The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler
Ann Fessler was given up for adoption by a teen mother in the years before Roe v. Wade. In 2002, she began interviewing women who had been sent away to maternity homes as teenagers and forced to give their children up for adoption. In the process, she found her birth mother.
4. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Abortion is like a ghost that meanders through Revolutionary Road. Frank and April Wheeler are an all-American couple, but their marriage began as the result of an unplanned pregnancy. Now, caught in a last-ditch effort to save her relationship, another pregnancy puts April in danger.
5. Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes
Leah Hayes' graphic novel "handbook" on abortion tells the stories of Mary and Lisa, two unrelated women who choose to terminate their pregnancies. Not Funy Ha-Ha walks readers through surgical and medical abortion procedures.
6. Abortion & Life by Jennifer Baumgardner
Part of Jennifer Baumgardner's "I had an abortion" project, Abortion & Life features portraits of famous women, accompanied by their abortion stories, told in their own words.
7. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
After an illicit affair with a minister, Hannah Payne has an illegal abortion. Now she's a Chrome, a criminal whose skin has been dyed to match her crime — red for murder.
8. Bumped by Megan McCafferty
After a virus renders adult women infertile, teen pregnancy becomes a means of survival. Living in this strange new world are separated-at-birth twins Melody and Harmony. They couldn't be more different. Melody has a contract to get pregnant for profit, and Harmony has been raised in a community where girls marry early and bear lots of fruit. But now that the two are back together, they'll have to sort out their differences.
9. How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America by Cristina Page
Cristina Page's How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America exposes the hypocrisy of anti-choice activists and politicians whose opposition to abortion extends to cover education and healthcare initiatives that would prevent unwanted pregnancies.
10. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale is a novel that gives a good kick in the ass to anyone who's on the fence about the right to choose. If you haven't already read it, this 1985 dystopia should absolutely be on your TBR.
11. Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont
After she pops a positive pregnancy test, 16-year-old Sydney and her best friend Nat make the rash decision to "borrow" a parent's car so that Sydney can talk to her boyfriend face-to-face. After the car is reported stolen, the girls find themselves carted off to a 6-week-long wilderness camp, where Sydney stares down the ticking clock on her choice.
12. The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan
Before Roe v. Wade, a group of Chicago women teamed up to provide the safest possible abortions for women who needed them. Member Laura Kaplan recounts the story of the Jane Collective in this powerful microhistory.
13. This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund
Three years after Roe, Susan Wicklund had an abortion. The pain and mistreatment she experienced inspired her to go to medical school and provide "women [with] the care denied to her."
14. Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt
If you think that women shouldn't be ashamed of their abortions, that some decisions aren't "agonizing," that the one-in-three statistic means abortion is a normal part of a woman's life, then Katha Pollitt's Pro is the book you've been waiting to read.
15. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
This March 2016 release tells the story of what happens after star cheerleader Hermione Winters is raped at a party, and she's faced with the decision of what to do about the resulting pregnancy.
16. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
Homer Wells has spent his entire life at the Maine orphanage where he was born. As an adult, he trains under the orphanage's director, Dr. Larch, who offers adoption and abortion services to women in need. Homer wants nothing to do with the abortion practice — until his girlfriend encounters an unexpected pregnancy.
17. '89 Walls by Katie Pierson
Quinn and Seth disagree on everything, which makes their sudden romance a surprise. Things get complicated when Quinn learns that she is pregnant, and she and Seth find themselves on opposite sides of an ideological wall.
18. Eve by Anna Carey
Born just before a virus destroyed the Earth's population, 18-year-old Eve has spent her entire life at a school that trains girls to be the teachers and artists that will lead their country. When she learns the school is actually a front for a forced breeding program, Eve runs away from everything she's ever known, hoping for a safe place to call home.
19. Partials by Dan Wells
In a time of post-war population crisis, 16-year-old Kira is required by law to attempt to get pregnant before she turns 18. After she sets out on a dangerous journey to find answers about the population problem, the age requirement suddenly drops to 16.
20. Forgetting to Be Afraid by Wendy Davis
When it comes to women's rights, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis is an absolute rockstar. Back in 2013, Davis stood and spoke for more than 10 hours to filibuster a bill that would make abortion all-but-inaccessible in her state. In Forgetting to Be Afraid, Davis talks about her own abortion experiences, making her the first politician to do so.
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