20 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2018
Date Written: October 17, 2018
Carol Sanger’s book, About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First Century America, arrives just as the confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh brings the future of abortion rights to an urgent new salience. About Abortion is a welcome and timely intervention in the highly polarized debate, focusing attention in a new direction. Sanger’s thesis is that we rarely talk about women’s experiences of abortion and that this absence of real conversation impoverishes our views about abortion and, in turn, impoverishes our democracy. In the book, Sanger uses both a metaphorical wide-angle lens, to capture the broad social and cultural context of abortion, and a telephoto lens, to focus attention on the fine-grained experiences of women, treating them as subjects, not objects, of the law.
This review essay argues that Sanger’s delightfully eclectic methodology has considerable normative consequences for both abortion talk and family law more generally. The textured, contextual conversation prompted by the book lowers the temperature of the debate and brings attention to new aspects of the issue. More broadly, the embedded humanism of her methodology is relevant to scholarly inquiry in other areas of family law in light of the mutually constitutive relationship between law and social context, as well as the profound effect of legal regulation on the daily life of families. The book thus succeeds in two ways. It opens the conversation about abortion, and it provides a methodology for scholars to think about the enormous range of influences in family law and the felt reality of that legal regulation.
This review essay also argues that despite the breadth of the book, it could and should have been even broader, bringing into the conversation more fully other important factors, most notably race and class. The odious history of—and ongoing efforts to—control the fertility of women of color, and the disproportionate rates of abortion among low-income women and women of color, mean the experiences of these women are distinctive and should be added to the conversation. This review thus engages in the call for conversation Sanger issues, drawing out additional voices to address these and other aspects of women’s experiences.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation