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A little over three months since Texas’s “heartbeat” abortion ban came into effect, and reproductive justice activists are at the ready again as the Supreme Court hears arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Indeed, grassroots protests have already sprung up in multiple cities, with many chants and placards engaging the most famous phrase of the abortion rights movement: “my body, my choice.”
But in a thoughtful essay from earlier this year, writer Abby Minor examines the limits of this language, arguing that it fails to capture a vision of collective bodily freedom. In “Beyond Choice,” Minor encourages us to stop applying individualist logic to pregnancy. “This reenacts mainstream white feminism’s most egregious error,” she writes, “the belief that liberalism, with its attendant concepts of privacy and choice, can simply be extended from the board room to the picking fields to the uterus.” Instead, we should not call solely for choice when it comes to our bodies, but equality. Only then can we move from reproductive rights to reproductive justice, and consider the distribution of resources, the social body and its obligations. Can we make that leap? Three books that Minor reviews already have, but the unlearning is difficult and deep.
A new essay from abortion provider and writer Christine Henneberg also challenges our focus on “choice.” “What do we mean by choice?” she asks. “Did my patient’s induced delivery at twenty-two weeks constitute an abortion (albeit one that many would call ‘acceptable’)? Or was it a tragedy, a ‘choice’ that was never hers to make?” Acknowledging the moral complexity of many cases, she nonetheless affirms a profound commitment to the women her practice serves and the decisions they make.
Alongside more recent essays on abortion during COVID-19, the archival pieces below reflect on abortion’s troubled past and increasingly uncertain future—dissecting the morality and the medicine, comparing the U.S. context to that of other countries and religions, and exposing its role in the broader politics of reproduction, gender, and inequality. Lastly, essays from Rachel Rebouché and Mary Ziegler consider the Supreme Court’s decision in last summer’s June Medical Services v. Russo, and whether fights over Roe v. Wade might give way to battles for reproductive justice and access.
In an archival 1996 essay, obstetrician Maureen Paul gives us a glimpse of what might be in store if it gets repealed. “Life before Roe. I was a teenager back then, pregnant and desperate,” she writes. “Too terrified to make the midnight trip to the back alley with a password and hundreds of dollars.” But it is also a story of resistance, Paul argues, and provides lessons for the fight that might await us—as well as pointing to Roe’s weaknesses, and where current pro-choice activists might be able to improve upon its legacy.
Roe v. Wade only guaranteed the right to patients’ privacy. A federal abortion law would need to go so much further.
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