16 Books To Help You Understand Why Being Feminist Means Being Pro-Choice
You've probably seen the copy-and-paste Facebook messages about how the Women's March on Washington didn't represent pro-life women. If you're having trouble understanding what the issue is, never fear, because I've got 16 books to help you understand why being feminist means being pro-choice.
Whether she marched on Washington, in her hometown, or not at all, no woman can deny the power and significance behind Saturday's global protests. Millions of women came together to march for reproductive freedom, LGBTQIA equality, workers' rights, environmental justice, civil rights, compassionate immigration, disability rights, and an end to violence against women. The Women's March on Washington was all about intersectional feminism, making it a extraordinarily inclusive event.
However, some women didn't feel comfortable participating in the Women's March on Washington, or anywhere else. Many women of color had mixed feelings about the large turnout of white women for this event, compared to similar demonstrations against police brutality, and Native American women, in particular, experienced a disgusting number of racist microaggressions from white protesters. Of course, some White Feminists™ felt left out after Women's March organizers asked them to stay in their lane, because being asked to be respectful and having your entire identity questioned are totally the same thing, guys.
What got the most media attention, however, was this: The Women's March rejected requests from anti-choice groups looking to become official sponsors, because anti-choice efforts are diametrically opposed to the organization's position on reproductive justice, which includes "open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education." Conservative outlets blasted the Women's March as hypocritical for sticking to their values, and got the results they wanted: anti-choice women either stayed home on Saturday or came prepared for a fight.
So, if you're wondering why reproductive rights matter so much to the Women's March on Washington that they would actually reject an alliance with an anti-choice group, here are the books you need to read.
Note: Most of the books on this list erroneously conflate being a woman and mother with having a vagina.
1'When Abortion Was a Crime' by Leslie J. Reagan
Leslie J. Reagan's publisher, the University of California Press, notes that When Abortion Was a Crime "is the first [study] to examine the entire period during which abortion was illegal in the United States." The book explores how people with vaginas terminated — with assistance or alone — in the 106 years before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the U.S. Millennials will find that life before Roe was truly unsettling, due in no small part to the legal, geographic, economic, and medical hurdles that abortion-seeking people faced.
2'The Story of Jane' by Laura Kaplan
Beginning in 1969, a group of Chicago women taught each other how to safely terminate pregnancies, and set up an underground abortion network known as the Jane Collective. Pregnant individuals could call a number, ask for "Jane," and be connected anonymously with a group of compassionate women who served up transportation and childcare alongside reproductive freedom. In the four years before Roe, Jane performed more than 11,000 abortions, and lost no patients in their care.
3'Abortion in the American Imagination: Before Life and Choice, 1880-1940' by Karen Weingarten
In this unique book, Karen Weingarten uses works of fiction and film, as well as activist publications, released between 1880 and 1940, to examine cultural attitudes toward abortion in the decades after it was criminalized, but before it became the subject of national debate.
4'Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement' by Jennifer Nelson
Although the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and '70s championed "abortion on demand and without apology," not everyone who demonstrated for reproductive freedom was concerned with being able to terminate. In fact, women of color, many of whom were also involved in various Civil Rights and nationalist movements, wanted access to safe maternity care, and the guarantee that they could birth and keep their children.
5'Medical Apartheid' by Harriet A. Washington
Spanning roughly the same period in history as When Abortion Was a Crime, Harriet A. Washington's Medical Apartheid examines the medical establishment's experimentations on black bodies, conducted without permission or apology for decades, and continuing after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among these myriad atrocities committed in the name of "science": forced sterilization and contraceptive experimentation on young black women and girls.
6'Matters of Choice' by Iris Ofelia López
Black women were not the only people to have their reproductive freedom stolen by the government and the medical establishment. In 1965, "about one-third of all Puerto Rican mothers, ages 20-49, were sterilized," compared to roughly one in 30 U.S. women. In order to control the Puerto Rican population, the U.S. government funded measures that forced sterilization on people with disabilities, and coerced able-bodied women into choosing tubal ligations over other forms of contraception, not knowing that the procedure was reversible.
7'Dangerous Pregnancies' by Leslie J. Reagan
In the 1960s, a rubella outbreak arose that would have long-lasting impact on abortion, disability rights, and the law. In Dangerous Pregnancies, Reagan examines how a childhood disease's effects on prenatal development catalyzed "wrongful birth" lawsuits, centrist abortion politics, and the disability rights movement.
8'Imbeciles' by Adam Cohen
In the early 1900s, eugenics policies made it legal for doctors in the U.S. to sterilize patients who were "feeble-minded," "promiscuous," or otherwise "undesirable." Carrie Buck, a 17-year-old foster child, was committed to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and the Feebleminded after she became pregnant as the result of rape, and was sterilized three years later with the consent of the Supreme Court. In Imbeciles, Adam Cohen explores the legacy of U.S. eugenics and Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court case that made Carrie Buck a part of history.
9'One Child' by Mei Fong
As part of an initiative aimed at raising the country's per capita income by decreasing its population growth, China's One Child policy would become the stuff of infamy. In spite of its allowances for families who had children with disabilities, gave birth to daughters, or were not Han Chinese, the One Child policy was a ruthless means of population control that forced sterilization on mothers at any gestational age. Published shortly after the policy was officially abandoned, Mei Fong's One Child is an all-too-necessary examination of what can happen when government control over women's bodies becomes the law of the land.
10'The Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Abortion: Global Perspectives' by Alaka Malwade Basu
Within his first 72 hours in office, Donald Trump reinstated the global gag rule: a federal policy that bans non-governmental organizations from receiving U.S. funding if they so much as refer people to clinics that perform abortion care. This means, in effect, that young girls rescued from sexual slavery will be forced to carry their pregnancies to term, even if they will die in the process, because the groups that save them cannot operate without U.S. funding.
In The Sociocultural and Political Aspects of Abortion, Alaka Malwade Basu explores how and why people in developing countries seek abortions. Read this book to understand why the global gag rule and the Helms Amendment must be permanently ended.
11'The Human Drama of Abortion' by Anibal Faúndes and José S. Barzelatto
Why is abortion such a polarizing issue? In The Human Drama of Abortion, abortion providers Anibal Faúndes and José S. Barzelatto explore the issue of pregnancy termination and bodily autonomy from all sides: "from the medical to the religious and ethical and from the psychological to the legal, in plain language understandable by non-specialists." Although the doctors themselves are pro-choice, The Human Drama of Abortion seeks to bridge the gap between activists and abortion opponents.
12'Abortion after Roe' by Johanna Schoen
Much has been written about the trials pregnant people had to go through in order to procure an abortion before 1973, but how did Roe v. Wade change the termination process? Johanna Schoen examines the landmark Supreme Court decision's impact on abortion providers and their patients in Abortion after Roe. Schoen includes an exploration of how the burgeoning anti-choice movement reframed debates over women's rights, but intentionally leaves out Planned Parenthood as she delves into the world of abortion providers.
13'How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America' by Cristina Page
Many anti-choice legislators and activists are also anti-contraception. They proclaim that life begins at conception, and argue that any contraceptive that prevents the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine lining is an abortifacient. But fighting to end contraceptive access has an interesting — and ironic — side-effect for the anti-choice crowd: an increase in the demand for abortion. Cristina Page's How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America examines the ideological disconnect between anti-choice activism and its professed goal.
14'PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights' by Katha Pollitt
Our understanding of abortion — how the procedure is performed, who undergoes it, and why — is, for lack of a better term, wholly underwhelming. Even the most pro-choice people fall back on the same tired examples for why abortion should be legal: the college-bound teen, the rape victim, the person with a life-threatening pregnancy. Likewise, the anti-choice movement has its own pet illustrations: the person who uses abortion instead of birth control, the "partial-birth" abortion, adoption. But these examples represent a very small percentage of pregnancies and terminations in the U.S., even when lumped together. As Katha Pollitt argues in PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, our collective abortion ignorance demands a reframing of termination as a common life event, not a dark and shameful act.
15'Our Bodies, Our Crimes' by Jeanne Flavin
In the U.S. today, we criminalize addiction while pregnant, sentence abused mothers more harshly than their abusers, coerce poor people into sterilization, deny pregnant inmates their basic human dignities, and punish marginalized people who seek abortions after falling victim to TRAP laws. Jeanne Flavin's Our Bodies, Our Crimes examines our skewed attitudes toward what makes a person a good and worthy parent, how those attitudes impact low-income families, and why economic and reproductive justice are two sides of the same coin.
16'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, paints a chilling portrait of the near-future, in which the U.S. has been overthrown by a religious far-right. In the country now known as Gilead, people with vaginas are forbidden to learn or hold property, and their status in society is inextricably linked to their ability to produce viable, white offspring. With our executive branch skewing further to the right, and even being led by white nationalists, The Handmaid's Tale is a more important book today than it was 30 years ago.