Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movementby Sarah Erdreich
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Strong support among women was key to Obama’s reelection. At the start of his second term, it is time for Barack Obama, forty years after Roe v. Wade, to finally help lead us to demystify abortion. One-third of all American women will have an abortion by the time they are 45, and most of those women are already mothers. Yet, the topic remains taboo. In this provocative book on the heels of the Planned Parenthood controversy, Sarah Erdreich presents the antidote to the usual abortion debates.
Inextricably connected to issues of autonomy, privacy, and sexuality, the abortion debate remains home base for the culture wars in America. Yet, there is more common ground than meets the eye in favor of choice. Generation Roe delves into phenomena such as "abortion-recovery counseling," "crisis pregnancy centers," and the infamous anti-choice "black children are an endangered species" billboards. It tells the stories of those who risk their lives to pursue careers in this stigmatized field. And it outlines the outrageous legislative battles that are being waged against abortion rights all over the country. With an inspiring spirit and a forward-looking approach, Erdreich holds abortion up, unabashedly, as a moral and fundamental human right.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
“In her first book, journalist and women’s health advocate Erdreich delivers a passionate study of the past, current, and future state of the pro-choice movement in America...This is a thoughtful and comprehensive treatment of one side of an emotionally charged topic.”—Publishers Weekly
“In several sagaciously researched essays, Erdreich presents some of the voices of women who choose abortion and why. An honest probing of law, public perception and conscience in the abortion debate.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Situated in an American context, Generation Roe explores the political and societal implications of access to abortion and what that means for a generation of women and providers who have come of age post-Roe vs. Wade (a landmark case decided in 1973 wherein the Supreme Court of the United States entrenched a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy). Interestingly, Erdreich demonstrates how the continual stigmatization of being pro-choice has actually made access to abortion an increasing problem.”—Shameless
"Each generation experiences the battles for reproductive choice uniquely. Sarah Erdreich digs into our current terrain—one of crisis pregnancy centers, the lulling effect of Roe, and the introduction of a new cadre of young activists online—to illustrate the morality and urgency that animate the right to abortion."—Jennifer Baumgardner, author of ManifestA and Abortion & Life
"Sarah Erdreich zeroes in on the central paradox of abortion in America: One in three women will have at least one abortion by menopause, but the anti-choice movement is scoring victory after victory. Stigma and shame—and, let's not forget, fear of anti-choice violence—keep too many women from speaking out even as their rights are whittled away. Can the young activists of Generation Roe revitalize the pro-choice movement? If you want to know what they're thinking, this book is a great place to begin."—Katha Pollitt
"Forty years after Roe v. Wade, Erdreich shows why the abortion issue remains salient."—Ms. Magazine, Great Reads for Winter 2013
“The book maintains a deft, critical tone that’s a refreshing break from most writing about abortions. Erdreich honestly and sharply evaluates the state of the movement and looks at what is and is not working for reproductive rights activists. She discusses the social stigma surrounding abortion, the tide of anti-choice legislation sweeping the nation, the dangers of providing abortion care, abortion in pop culture, and the strategies employed by the anti-choice movement in detail, weaving personal and political narratives together quite seamlessly. It’s a fantastic overview of the issues facing the movement today, and the people on the front lines of the culture war over reproductive rights. A must-have for readers interested in reproductive rights subjects, particularly those who wish to expand the scope and nature of the debate to make it more inclusive of the larger picture.”—Bitch Magazine
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Read an Excerpt
Abortion is not a Four-Letter Word
I am not a Nazi.
That is not a statement I ever thought I’d have to make, particularly as a Jewish woman. But if there is one thing that anti-choice activists love more than ultrasound images of fully-formed and healthy fetuses, it is equating pro-choice beliefs with Nazism. The person who called me a Nazi in a particularly nasty email has no idea where I spend my days or what I look like. Others who work to protect abortion rights cannot enjoy the safety of anonymity. Luckily for me, his hatred can take no expression greater than a viral insult—one that I never want to read again, yet one that I save because it means something: It means that I can’t give up.
Each pro-choice activist and abortion provider has his or her own reasons for pursuing this stigmatized work, which carries a very real threat of harassment and violence. My own reasons stem from a deep-seated desire to safeguard women’s rights. I’m unwilling to stand by as a passive witness as women’s rights are chipped away to the point where abortion becomes, effectively, illegal. I’m reminded of why this is important every time I meet a woman whose life was directly impacted by this larger struggle, such as when Renee Chelian, the founder and director of several abortion clinics in the Detroit area, tells me about the abortion she had as a fifteen-year-old in 1966.
“My mom was six months pregnant with my younger sister, so it was my dad that took me,” she recalls about the procedure, which cost $2,000—a substantial sum today, never mind over forty years ago. “We went to a parking lot near a building; we were put in the back of a car and I remember I couldn’t see where we were going because we were blindfolded, so I couldn’t look out the windows. We were driven into a warehouse; it was probably a garage. There was oil spilled on the cement floor and a card table, and there were a lot of women. I was afraid if I looked up and I said anything they wouldn’t give me my abortion. They gave me something, thankfully, and when I woke up my dad took me home. After my abortion my dad told me we’ll never ever talk about this again, no one [will] ever marry you if they know, and we can’t risk anybody going to jail. And we didn’t talk about it, really, for I can’t even think how many years. When I opened the clinic,” she adds, “my parents were very, very proud of me, very, very supportive.”
As harrowing as that experience must have been, Renee was fortunate not only to have her parents’ support but also not to have suffered any adverse effects following an illegal procedure. June Ayers, the director of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, Alabama, recalls a much more dangerous environment in her hometown. “Before there was Roe v. Wade, [women] knew what abortion was like when you had to stand on a street corner with your money in hand and be willing to be blindfolded, then taken to God-knows-where to have it completed on someone’s kitchen table or wherever,” she tells me as we sit in a small office in her clinic, our conversation punctuated by the heavy clang of the front doors as patients are buzzed into the building. “My father, who was a state trooper, remembered that in Opelika [Alabama] there was a house that they just didn’t pay attention to. He knew that they did abortions there; he knew that the abortions actually were done with broom straws. Imagine a broom straw, what a risk for infection. But until someone died, nobody paid attention; I mean it would take a death for them to go in and say, ‘Hey, you can’t do this anymore.’"
And women did die from illegal abortion in the years before Roe: In 1930, it was the cause of death for almost 2,700 women, or 18 percent of maternal deaths recorded that year. By 1965, the number had declined to just under 200, but that still accounted for 17 percent of all childbirth- and pregnancy-related deaths that year.
Like June, Emily Lyons, a nurse who was seriously injured when Birmingham’s New Woman, All Women Healthcare Clinic was bombed in 1998, grew up in a small Southern town. “[I] came from a very strict Baptist house, didn’t watch TV, didn’t listen to music, didn’t read a newspaper,” she recalls as we sit at her dining room table. “Civil rights and all that, it happened when I was growing up, but not in my house. We didn’t talk about anything. How I turned out like this is beyond me.” While she doesn’t mention any experience with illegal abortion, Emily does bring up a particular case she worked on early in her nursing career.
“When I was in school, my last semester was in labor and delivery. One of my patients was a saline abortion. They really just set her off, she did her thing, I didn’t have to monitor too much of anything except for her, and once she delivered in the bed, then you cleaned up, weighed it, and et cetera. When I look back now I think man, she must have felt so alone. I think that kind of got things started. That was ’77, so abortion had been legal for four years. Obviously, her doctor decided this was what she needed to do; this was what she wanted to do. Whether it’s at four weeks or however many weeks on up, it’s still your decision to make; it’s a choice just like everything else in the world. Everything is a choice. You know people say it’s not a choice, it’s a child. No, it is a choice; it is a decision that you have to make.
“I’m reading a book now,” Emily continues, “The Girls Who Went Away. Talk about being ostracized. It’s all the girls’ fault, of course, whisked off in the middle of the night to these homes [for unwed mothers]. Golly, when did society get so judgmental?”
Hundreds of miles away, Robert Blake, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri’s School of Medicine, emails me about his involvement in the pre-Roe pro-choice movement when he was a medical student in St. Louis.
“A group of folks, including physicians, medical students, other health professionals and health professional students, and clergy was formed in the late 1960s in St. Louis to assist women in obtaining safe abortions at a time when abortion in Missouri was only legally available to save a woman’s life. Several OB/GYN physicians were willing to perform the procedure for women referred through this group. I don’t know who they were, and I don’t know how women found out about the group—probably through clergy, counselors, etc. The role of the students was to meet with women one-on-one and ‘counsel’ them. This involved informing them of the nature of the procedure and medical risks but also involved assessing their social and psychological conditions. In one case that I know about, the woman actually stayed at a student’s home while the process of abortion was completed.
“I counseled a few women. One I particularly remember was a married graduate student who could not afford a child. She was well educated and emotionally well adjusted with a supportive husband. In fact she and her husband seemed to be very similar to my wife and me, except she was pregnant and did not want to be. I think this experience dispelled some misconceptions I had about women who sought abortion. My stereotype was that they often had significant psychological problems and were immature. I discovered that this was not valid.”
The world that Robert, June, Emily, and Renee grew up in is very different from the one that young activists and providers work in today. Not only did everyone born in or after 1973 grow up with legal abortion, but today’s medical students, law students, and activists just entering the reproductive rights field came of age during the heyday of abstinence-only education, and in a time that has seen impressive gains by the anti-choice movement to restrict abortion access. They are in an interesting position, then: While they only know a world with legal abortion, they also only know a world where abortion is heavily politicized and controversial, and where it is all too easy to overlook the very individual and meaningful reasons that women choose abortion.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
What People are saying about this
–Jennifer Baumgardner, author of ManifestA and Abortion & Life
"Sarah Erdreich zeroes in on the central paradox of abortion in America: One in three women will have at least one abortion by menopause, but the anti-choice movement is scoring victory after victory. Stigma and shame—and, let's not forget, fear of anti-choice violence—keep too many women from speaking out even as their rights are whittled away. Can the young activists of Generation Roe revitalize the pro-choice movement? If you want to know what they're thinking, this book is a great place to begin."
Meet the Author
Women's health advocate and writer Sarah Erdreich has been identified as a leading pro-choice activist by Newsweek, and her incisive writings on abortion rights have been noted by Jezebel, Feministing, and the National Partnership for Women and Families. She has worked for several prominent pro-choice organizations, and has been published in On The Issues, Lilith, Feminists For Choice, and RH Reality Check. She has also worked editorially with the magazines HUES and Teen Voice. Generation Roe is her first book.
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