Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Johanna Schoen's "Abortion After Roe"

Johanna Schoen is associate professor of history at Rutgers University and author of Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Abortion after Roe: Abortion after Legalization, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s page 99 test takes us to a place in Abortion After Roe that feels almost preliminary – a discussion about the sense of relief and epiphany abortion providers felt when they established the National Abortion Federation [NAF] in 1977. Four years after the legalization of abortion, NAF brought together a wide assortment of individuals: members of feminist health collectives, owners of for-profit clinics, and abortion providers from diverse backgrounds were joined by researchers, academics, lawyers, and policymakers. While all came together to carve out a future for abortion services now that the procedure was legal, consolidation did not come easy. Feminists wanted abortions to be performed as an act of empowerment and consciousness-raising for women in a non-hierarchical woman-centered setting at the lowest cost possible. Male physician providers hoped to center abortion services in a medical office or clinical setting that emphasized medical safety and professionalism. At odds over the meaning of professionalism and the importance of feminist care, NAF members still came together and established a set of standards with the hope of integrating abortion care into mainstream medicine.

But four decades later, the hopes of abortion providers, that abortion services would be easily accessible, integrated into mainstream medical practice, are far from reality. As Abortion After Roe chronicles, by the 1980s, the rise of a powerful anti-abortion movement determined the shape that abortion care was going to take. As anti-abortion activists redefined abortion as murder and the fetus as a baby, they began to exert an extraordinary influence on the delivery of abortion services, pushing both patients and providers into the defensive. Anti-abortion politics shaped the performance of abortion procedures, and stigmatized abortion services and those who participated in them. Overregulated and forced to practice defensive medicine, abortion providers found it increasingly challenging to offer woman-centered feminist care.

Yet, Abortion After Roe also illustrates how patients and abortion providers pushed back. They educated local and federal law enforcement about harassment and violence against clinics and staff. They pushed for legal protections and the prosecution of violent anti-abortion activists. And they began to articulate a new understanding of reproductive justice that positions abortion care as moral work. Women, too, reclaimed their moral authority to make their own reproductive decisions and speak about abortions as a positive choice. This book does not offer a solution to the abortion debate. But it explains how we ended up at a time when attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and discredit women’s health services regularly resurface and it offers an assessment of the ways in which supporters of reproductive justice might articulate a powerful support for abortion care.
Learn more about Abortion after Roe at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue