In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a woman’s privacy rights are “broad enough to encompass the right to terminate her pregnancy.”
Now, despite the decades of progress made since that iconic decision, women’s rights are being degraded once more. Trump’s new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, is virulently anti-choice (because his experience as a Congressman and orthopedic doctor has provided him with extensive knowledge of both pregnancy and the needs of low-income women…?).
As Congressman, Price co-sponsored two bills that would allow zygotes full human rights from the moment of conception, essentially prohibiting all abortions as well as numerous contraceptive methods that are thought to interfere with the implantation of fertilized eggs. Thus, with an anti-choice president and an anti-choice HHS Secretary, it’s becoming more and more likely that the United States will overturn Roe v. Wade and regress to the days of dangerous, illegal abortions and systematic discrimination against women. So…go America?
The following books provide a clear picture of what life was like before men granted women the rights to their own bodies (because of course that isn’t something women inherently possess). Ironically–and disturbingly–it’s also a glimpse of what America might look like again in the near future:
1. Braided Lives by Marge Piercy
Set in the 1950s, Piercy’s novel tells the story of a group of female friends who support each other through college studies, love affairs, nascent careers, and the consequences of failed birth control. Side note: The New York Times reviewer who read the book when it was released in 1982 was “offended” by it and confessed that he only liked one of the female characters. The “attractive” one. Because that’s not offensive at all.
2. The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan
Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, 100 women ran an underground abortion service (code name “Jane”) that helped over 11,000 women end unwanted pregnancies. Kaplan (who joined Jane in 1971) interviewed the other volunteers who ran Jane and compiled their testimonials in this groundbreaking book.
3. Florynce “Flo” Kennedy by Sherie M. Randolph
Flo Kennedy was one of the biggest feminist leaders of the 1960s and 70s. After graduating from Columbia Law School, she brought with her many of the concerns and lessons of Black Power to the predominantly white feminist movement. Always quick to offer a good quip, Kennedy also gave the pro-choice movement one of its most memorable slogans: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
4. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Yates 1961 novel is a completely shattering depiction of post-WWII suburbia. (Ever see the film with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet? Mind-blowing.) Frank and April have been married for years and are both educated, intelligent, and talented. But, like most educated women of her generation, April is forced to stay at home every day while Frank commutes to work. Eventually, the tension in her marriage and pressures in her life force April to make an irrevocable decision.
5. Forgetting to Be Afraid by Wendy Davis
Famous for holding an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to block Governor Rick Perry’s anti-abortion bill, Senator Wendy Davis is continuing her fight for women’s rights. In this memoir, she shares her experiences as a single mother and her belief that the American dream belongs to everyone.
Davis says that the thousands of messages she received while standing on the Texas Senate floor inspired this work: “Giving voice to the truths of so many women made me see that I needed to give voice to my own truths, the truths that had made me who I am and had brought me to stand there that day, and not yield until my job was done.”
6. The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler
Alternative fact: Being forced to carry a baby to term is not all sunshine and rainbows.
For years, young, single girls who got pregnant while still living at home were pulled out of school and sent away. Neighbors were told they had gone to boarding school, or that they were visiting a relative. In reality, those young girls were forced to deliver their babies in shame and secrecy–and frequently compelled to give their babies up for adoption to relieve their families of the stigma of having a “bastard” in the family.
Fessler herself is one of the babies who was put up for adoption. In this book, she tells the gripping stories of over 100 girls who, like her mother, were forced to bend to the patriarchal social pressures of their time.
7. Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts
We truly have been killing the black body. Before the Emancipation Proclamation, innumerable enslaved black women were raped and forcibly impregnated. Even in the 20th century, thousands of women of color were sterilized without their consent as a part of government eugenics programs. Appalling, right?
In this book, Roberts makes the case that reproductive rights are intrinsically connected to racial equality. She also calls for an acknowledgment that the fight for white women’s reproductive rights has sometimes led to painful repercussions for women of color.
To all the girls, teens, and women out there who have ever felt that they don’t have a choice: we’re thinking of you, and trying desperately to make a better future.
YouTube Channel: Planned Parenthood Action
Featured image via Liberation News