Though I often review books and movies that have little to do with animal advocacy or environmental issues, I don’t usually post the reviews here since – well, since they’ve little to do with animal advocacy!
So while I read and reviewed Cristina Page’s How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex (2006) over Memorial Day weekend (do I know how to live it up, or what?!), it didn’t initially occur to me that I should publish it here. That is, until earlier today, when I realized that I included the volume in my list of recommended reading on the topic of intersectionality. Thus, entirely appropriate!
Also, I spent all my spare time today writing another guest post for change.org. Filler, this post? No!
Seriously, though, it’s a great book, and an excellent introduction to the current American debate over reproductive rights. It’s also quite timely, eerily so.
If How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America – the title of Cristina Page’s 2006 exposé of the religious right/pro-life movement’s true agenda – sounds like liberal hyperbole, chances are that Page wrote this book just for you!
While the “pro-life” movement professes to respect “all life,” to the point of holding it sacred, the movement’s actions belie this all-too-common assumption. Since the days of Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers have been hammering away at women’s – and men’s – reproductive rights. In addition to abortion (whether it occurs before the fertilized egg implants in the womb, the point at which those in the medical field consider that a pregnancy has begun, or in the later stages of pregnancy, which is very rare and usually done in order to save the mother’s life), the pro-life movement opposes contraception, and not just Plan B (which is not an abortifacient, but rather a high dose of The Pill). Whether the method is hormonal (The Pill, the patch, Plan B, NuvaRing, etc.) or barrier (the condom, the sponge, the cervical cap, the diaphragm, spermicide), pro-lifers oppose it. The only contraceptive method explicitly endorsed by pro-life groups, in fact, is one with dubious efficacy: natural family planning, also called the rhythm method.
The pro-life groups’ anti-contraceptive stances – which oftentimes translate into political lobbying and policymaking – expose the “pro-life” movement for what it really is, namely, anti-sex and anti-woman. Sex is a natural and healthy part of (adult) life, Page argues, as is the ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies, i.e., contraception. Absent contraception, women are faced with a tough choice: undergo abortion after abortion; birth more children than they want and can reasonably care for; or forgo sex unless the sole intent is procreation (whether married or not). It’s these latter two options that the pro-life movement wishes to force on women – and not just those living in the U.S. Meanwhile, the former two scenarios represent the reality for many women: research shows that abstinence education simply doesn’t work. Women and men will continue to engage in sex, and when contraception isn’t readily available and affordable, unwanted pregnancies and abortion will result. The single best way to prevent abortion, then, is to prevent unwanted and unintended pregnancies – and yet, the pro-life movement crusades against strategies that will do just this, including comprehensive sex ed and contraception. Like I said, “Pro-life”? More like “anti-sex,” “anti-woman” and “anti-human.”
Armed with a volume of research and statistics, Page demonstrates just how at odds the pro-life movement’s views are with those of mainstream America. In particular, she examines the hoopla over Plan B and the HPV vaccine; pro-life groups’ anti-condom activities; the defunding by President G.W. Bush of UNFPA; and American life pre- and post-Roe (the latter reads like a precursor to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale).
Little in How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America will surprise readers who are engaged in the struggle for reproductive rights. At just 238 pages (minus 70 pages of notes and indices), this is a slim tome, especially given the subject matter. On the flip side, had Page made her review of anti-choice activities more exhaustive, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America could have easily exceeded 500+ pages – thus narrowing her audience considerably. As such, I think the author strikes a nice balance between insight and brevity. It’s a quick, easy and informative read; I polished it off in a weekend, and even learned a few new factoids, even though I’ve been following feminist blogs and organizations for years. Some of the information is by now out of date; hopefully, Page will soon release an updated paperback edition. Still, the book is a good starting point for those new to the politics of reproduction, sexuality and Constitutional rights vis-à-vis bodily privacy.
Other reviewers have accused Page of “cherry-picking” quotes from pro-life websites, press releases and interviews, further arguing that these views do not represent the majority of pro-lifers’ views. A laughable observation, as this is precisely Page’s point. In the opening pages, Page points out that many laypeople who describe themselves as “pro-life” and donate money to pro-life organizations actually haven’t a clue as to these organizations’ – and thus the movement’s – true beliefs and aims, which go well beyond outlaying abortion. Thus, it’s those who oppose abortion – but respect women, men and children and enjoy sex and the right to privacy – who most need to read How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. Put simply, to be truly “pro-life” is to be “pro-choice.”