Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Carol Sanger, Why, What, and Now: Writing on Abortion
I’ve just written a book called About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in 21st Century America. For years I hadn’t wanted to work on the issue of abortion because from an advocacy standpoint post-Casey v. Planned Parenthood, it meant being in a defensive posture, responding to whatever state legislatures had dished out. From a professorial perspective, abortion is most often taught in Con Law, usually in the sequence of privacy cases. This makes for interesting doctrinal lessons, but locating Roe v. Wade chronologically between Griswold v. Connecticut and Bowers v. Hardwick fails to capture abortion as a distinctively woman’s experience – and a highly regulated one at that.***
Nonetheless, my project was on, and I began with the question: Why, as we creep ever closer to the half-century mark of Roe v. Wade, is abortion still regarded as so unsettled, perhaps not illegal but certainly criminal-like? What makes this quasi-criminal status possible? I wanted to present the case that to the extent women feel guilty, ashamed, or reticent to speak about an abortion at the level of personal experience, they might be heartened to know that there is an entire structure of American law and culture aimed at bringing about just that result. Regulations that make abortion feel like a criminal act abound: mandatory ultrasounds and waiting periods; legislatively drafted statements that physicians must read to their patients; adoption brochures, and disclosure about paternal financial obligations. Each of these is intended to bring home to women that before they terminate an unwanted pregnancy they should think again, look harder, and not be so selfish.