There aren't enough novels that deal with abortion. Just like movies and television, novels tend to
skirt around the issue, or else misrepresent it. That needs to change, especially now, when the Supreme Court appears poised to roll back Roe v. Wade: the SCOTUS case that established Americans’ right to abortion. If you’re looking for novels that deal with abortion, you can’t go wrong with one of the 16 books below, each of which depicts safe, legal options for people looking to end their pregnancies — or the terrible consequences of criminalizing the procedure.
In fiction, pregnancy scares are usually just that: scares. When their late period eventually arrives, the plucky heroine is left relieved, and perhaps a little mournful of what might have been. And when someone does undergo an abortion, they often find themselves distraught over the loss, or worse.
Most of these depictions are at odds with pregnant people’s real-world experiences.
Not everyone who gets pregnant is a woman, and not all women can become pregnant, but abortion is overwhelmingly framed as an issue for women and women only. Novels that deal with abortion are rare, but one in three AFAB people will have an abortion in their lifetime; fiction presents abortion as a devastating experience, but 95% of those who choose to terminate are confident in their decisions and have no regrets; often, media depict abortion as a dangerous procedure, but "[t]he real risk of death from an abortion is statistically zero."
Here are 16 books that paint a more realistic portrait of abortion. This list is not complete, by any means, but hopefully it’ll offer some much-needed fuel for your activist fire in these trying times.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. 1 ’89 Walls
This cross-class romance set in the late 1980s centers on a pair of star-crossed lovers: Seth, a working-class boy raised by his chronically ill single mother, and Quinn, an upper-class girl from a conservative family.
2 A Book of American Martyrs We Were the Mulvaneys author Joyce Carol Oates tackles abortion from all sides in her 2017 novel, A Book of American Martyrs. The story examines the fallout after an Evangelical radical assassinates an abortion doctor, which leaves both men's families reeling. 3 The Cider House Rules
In John Irving’s poignant novel, orphan Homer Wells trains as an obstetrician under the careful tutelage of Dr. Larch, who helps young, unwed parents navigate the murky waters of childbirth and abortion in interbellum Maine. Homer, who’s opposed to abortion, seizes his chance to leave the orphanage when a young couple arrives looking to terminate a pregnancy. But as he learns more about the world outside his tiny New England home, Homer comes to feel differently about his mentor’s legacy.
4 Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend
Margaritte is a 16-year-old living in poverty, playing mother to her little sisters and trying to deal with her father's alcoholism. Dealing drugs offers her the chance to save up enough money to escape, but an unplanned pregnancy could change everything she's worked so hard for.
5 Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Hermione Winter is a hometown star: the captain of her high school's cheerleading team, in a town where cheerleaders are valued rightly as athletes. But when she becomes pregnant after being drugged and raped at cheer camp, Hermione's town turns against her.
6 Finding Yvonne
From the author of
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph and The Voting Booth comes Finding Yvonne. The story here centers on Yvonne, a high-school violinist who has spent the last decade grappling with her mother’s abandonment and her father’s emotional unavailability. She’s hoping her future will be better, though, and that starts with earning a place at a prestigious conservatory — a plan that’s jeopardized by an unplanned pregnancy during her senior year. 7 Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
During her senior year, Gabi Hernandez discovers poetry as a means of coping with expectations from within and without. Whether it's her mother's beloved Mexican heritage, her best friend coming out, her other best friend finding out she's pregnant, or Gabi's own sexual awakening, everything she encounters is poured into her newfound medium.
8 Girl Mans Up
Girl Mans Up tells the story of Pen, a gender-nonconforming teen. She isn’t a social butterfly, so she stays local to the friends she does have, namely Colby: a womanizing classmate who doesn’t expect Pen to turn girly — or straight — overnight. But when she finds herself comforting one of Colby’s exes, Pen begins to reconsider their friendship. 9 Like Sisters on the Homefront
After 14-year-old Gayle becomes pregnant for the second time, her mother takes her to have an abortion, and sends her and her infant brother to live in Georgia with her religious Uncle Luther. There, Gayle meets Great, the family matriarch, who regales her with stories of her own youth.
10 Mercy Street
Jennifer Haigh’s eerily timely new novel follows an abortion clinic counselor as she talks with patients, endures threats against the clinic and its employees, and meets with customers who file in and out of her weed dealer’s home — including one young man with a strange connection to one of the clinic’s most persistent enemies.
In Alice Walker's 1976 novel,
Meridian, the eponymous college student finds herself caught up in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. But as Meridian throws herself into her activism, she wonders if others are in the struggle for the right reasons. 12 The Mothers
In the wake of her mother’s death by suicide, 17-year-old Nadia Turner strikes up a passionate romance with Luke Shepherd, the pastor's son. When Nadia turns up pregnant, she tells Luke she's made her decision, but that she lacks the money to do it. He hands her the cash, and promptly disappears, leaving Nadia abandoned at the abortion clinic. Over the next decade, Luke and Nadia's life stories twist around each other, as they both explore what the future holds and what might have been.
Childhood friends Leah and Natalie find themselves growing apart as they grow older. Adulthood brings more than jobs and responsibilities, and as complicated sexualities, addictions, and prejudices begin to pile on top of the novel's protagonists, something, unfortunately, has to give.
14 Revolutionary Road
In Richard Yates’ heartbreaking novel of domestic upheaval, a young couple’s plan to escape their mundane lives in 1950s Connecticut and emigrate to Europe is stymied when they encounter their third unplanned pregnancy. The first time April became pregnant, she and Frank got married. The second time Frank took a job he hated to support their growing family and keep his wife from seeking an abortion. Will having a third baby mean spending the rest of their lives in the suburbs?
Refreshing and irreverent, Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan’s
Unpregnant centers on Veronica, a 17-year-old overachiever who becomes pregnant after her boyfriend sabotages their condoms. Fearing she won’t be supported by those closest to her, she turns to her ex-best friend, Bailey, for support in her hour of need. To reach the nearest abortion clinic, nearly 1,000 miles away, the duo set out for the road trip of a lifetime. 16 Unterzakhn
At the turn of the 20th century, Esther and Fanya Feinberg, the twin daughters of Russian Jewish immigrants, are working to build their own lives in New York City. Esther becomes a sex worker, while Fanya goes to work for an OB/GYN who performs abortions.
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This article was originally published on
Jan. 23, 2017