“The Cost of ‘Choice’: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion”

Edited by Erika Bachiochi and reviewed by Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. This review is one of those perennials that I like to run every so often, both because the book is so substantive and because we are forever adding new readers who may never have heard of this terrific book.

costofchoicebookLet me be honest. When a book includes thinkers of the caliber of Professors Jean Bethke Elshtain, Mary Ann Glendon, and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, to name just three, I’m pretty much already sold. But “The Cost of ‘Choice'” not only is replete with the work of brilliant pro-life feminists, it possesses the additional virtue of being brief (a mere 138 pages) yet chock-full of original thinking and dazzlingly well-written essays.

Editor Erika Bachiochi explains that the ace in the hole for abortion advocates is their “success in convincing Americans that abortion is a necessary precondition for women’s equality.” Or, put another way, that “whatever the status of the unborn, the very well-being of women is dependent on the legal right to abortion.” It is that thumb on the scale that this book is intended to dislodge.

As pro-life feminists, the 12 authors make a convincing case that the early feminists were staunchly pro-life, a legacy obliterated by what Prof. Glendon calls that “peculiar form of [1970s] feminism” that has “long since passed” but which still exercises considerable sway.

Glendon puts it this way:

“[T]hough hardline feminism has little appeal for today’s women, its ideology lives on in law and policy, like rays from a dead star. The cohort of women most captivated by that ideology now holds influential positions, and the organizations that advance the worst ideas of 1970s feminism continue to be handsomely bankrolled by its chief beneficiaries – – the vast, profit-making abortion industry, the sex industry, and the organizations that promote aggressive population control.”

According to Prof. Elshstain, the book’s contributors “explore what has been nearly taboo in discussion of abortion, namely, any negative effects on women themselves.” As summarized by Bachiochi, “These authors argue that over the last three decades, legal abortion has had deleterious effects on women – – socially, medically, psychologically and culturally.” They back this bold assertion with a body of history, medical fact, and sociological reality that all but compels women and men of good will to “rethink the once-sacred proposition” that abortion is good for women.

Prof. Elshstain cannily observes that there is an almost predictable cycle to “controversial” Supreme Court decisions.

There is an “immediate hue and cry; then things settle down; eventually the holding is ‘normalized’ and becomes part of the civic landscape.” But opposition has “instead has grown continuously since these decisions [Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton] were handed down.” Why?

Because Roe caused a “civic and moral fissure in the body politic,” Elshstain argues. It could be no other way because abortion “is not a narrowly legal matter: it is about who we are as a people and how we think about who is in and who is out of the moral community.”

Drawing on a rich body of pro-life writings that extends back to the 1960s, Elshstain amplifies this insight. She explains how the “arbitrary removal of whole classes and categories from moral concern – – whether on the basis of race or gender or ethnicity or religion – – is a sign of moral degeneracy, not progress.” As she writes, “The question of the moral status of the unborn child is a part of this long and arduous movement toward inclusion.”

Even as the war against the unborn has claimed over 45 million [now over 55 million] victims, the casualty lists among their mothers continues to mount. The physical and emotional toll constitutes, in Prof. Fox-Genovese’s words, nothing short of a “war on women.”

Bachiochi has written elsewhere

“Abortion has had a negative impact upon women’s health. Women who have had abortions suffer an increased risk of depression and suicide – – the risk of death from suicide is six times higher when compared with women who have given birth.

“Induced abortion increases the risk of placenta previa in subsequent pregnancies by 50 percent and doubles the risk of pre-term birth in later pregnancies. Though still the subject of intense debate, epidemiological studies as well as breast physiology suggest a causal link between induced abortion and breast cancer independent of the delay of a first full term pregnancy.”

Is there a public policy dimension to all this? Indeed, there is. Candice Crandall argues, “The ability of abortion to galvanize public opinion and tip the balance in favor of abortion rights candidates is over. Americans look at Roe v. Wade and increasingly find nothing in it for them. Should the opportunity arise, the nation may finally be ready to see the abortion issue returned to the state legislatures where it should have remained some thirty years ago.”