A sorrowful history
Insightful books on abortion
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For the backstory of this list of abortion-book recommendations, see Marvin Olasky's column, “Am I gagged or not?” in this issue.
Magda Denes’ In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital (Basic, 1976) is a journalistic feat by a psychiatrist who barely survived the Holocaust. Denes hung around for months at a New York City abortion center and describes what she saw: “I look inside the bucket in front of me. There is a small naked person in there floating in a bloody liquid—plainly the tragic victim of a drowning accident. But then perhaps this was no accident, because the body is purple with bruises.” Denes had seen so much brutality as a child that the sorrow, guilt, and horror of the abortion killing fields seemed natural to her, and she thought the regime of legal abortion to be inevitable.
Clarke Forsythe’s Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (Encounter, 2013) shows why the United States is one of only four countries (along with China, North Korea, and Canada) that allow abortion at any time before birth: The Supreme Court made a sweeping change without adequate research and analysis. Justice Harry Blackmun’s decision depended largely on history, but he depended on a recently published law journal article that got basic facts wrong. “Viability” had an important role in the decision, but it was not an issue in lower courts or in oral arguments, and the justices addressed it only one or two months before announcing the decision. Even abortion proponents find Roe intellectually embarrassing.
Unlike those commentators who analyze the abortion battle as one of gender, class, and race, Anne Hendershott in The Politics of Abortion (Encounter, 2006) shows that it reflects deeply held and often incompatible moral commitments, which is why abortion disputes are not easily compromised or resolved in courts. She examines the cultural and judicial shift that led to rampant abortion and the transformation of the Democratic Party from a New Deal coalition to an abortion advocacy group: Apart from Roe v. Wade, it’s unlikely that either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush would have been elected president. Hendershott also illuminates the targeting of minorities, the politics of Hollywood, and the civil war about abortion within Catholicism.
Cynthia Gorney, author of Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars (Touchstone, 1998) worked at The Washington Post and did not separate herself from its abortion advocacy, but she’s an excellent reporter who shows accurately and evocatively the personalities on both sides of the battle and the reservations they had. For example, Gorney describes a first-trimester abortionist, Michael S. Freiman, learning how to do second-trimester killings by watching a fellow abortionist do one. Suddenly “a small arm with a hand on it dropped into the surgical pan. … He felt momentarily short of air, as though someone had punched him hard in the stomach. … What was wrong with him? Why was he suddenly thinking about Nazi Germany?”
The old book I recommend: Elizabeth Evans’ The Abuse of Maternity (Forgotten Books, 2017 edition).
Some abortion advocates say “post-abortion syndrome” is a myth recently created by abortion opponents, but feminist Evans in 1875 wrote about the effects of abortions on women who had them a decade or two earlier. One woman, she reported, was “wild with regret at my folly in rejecting the (alas! only once-proffered) gift of offspring.” Another woman described how her “thoughts were filled with imaginings as to what might have been the worth of that child’s individuality.” She said she never “read of an accident by land or by water, or of a critical moment in battle, or of a good cause lost through lack of a brave defender, but my heart whispered, ‘He might have been there to help and save.’”
Evans concluded that since there is “grief for the loss of an infant at birth, how much more terrible, then, must be … the keen pangs of a speedily-awakened remorse!” —M.O.
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