Friday, August 20, 2010

Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel: Before Roe v Wade

My mom picked this book up for me because she remembered Linda Greenhouse's previous book, "Becoming Justice Blackmun," and thought I would like this one. She knew nothing about it, just that she liked Greenhouse and thought I would enjoy this, knowing my interest in the subject. She was right- I enjoyed the book, despite (because of?) its format. The book is a series of documents, each prefaced with a little context, that led to the Roe V Wade decision. Although I've read a lot about Roe V Wade, I've never read any source documents, and they were surprising. Obviously, the authors got to choose/filter what the readers will read, but there is at least the appearance of seeing multiple sides of the issues.

The dialogue has changed so much, the documents reveal, from language to the parties involved. Anyone looking at the abortion debate today, or in the late 90s through today, like I have, would point to far-Right republicans, fundamentalist Christians, and pictures of fetuses and coat hangers as some of the main images of the debate. Even having read historical accounts, I was surprised to read that most religious denominations were for "reform" of the criminal laws against abortion in the late 60s, including mainline Protestants. The documents on how people like Pat Buchanan had to construct a Republican party line *against* abortion, especially during the re-election year campaign between Nixon and McGovern. Further, in Blackmun's "hand-down" of the Roe v Wade decision mentioned nothing about women's right to self-determination over their own bodies and reproductive systems, which was very much part of the discussion. The picture of the Supreme Court responsible for the Roe v Wade decision was very telling:

If you're interested in women's rights, or you're a feminist, or you care about abortion, or choice, or anything like this, really, the book is worth a read. It requires patience, and isn't really a page turner, but it's fascinating.