Let's be honest: We've been losing the battle for abortion rights for decades. Ever since the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion safe and legal in 1973, anti-abortion advocates have been chipping away at it in earnest. Some states now only have one abortion provider—in some parts of the country, a woman has to travel more than a thousand miles to reach the nearest abortion clinic. Funding for women's health services has been under attack from Republicans over the last decade; assistance for women who want, but can't afford, an abortion has been ruthlessly targeted by activist religious groups to ensure no government funds are involved. Every year since Roe v. Wade has delivered victories for anti-abortion demagogues across the United States, and the only victories for pro-choice politicians come when they manage to stave off anti-abortion forces for another year.
That's why Katha Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (Picador, $25) is such an important book. In a little more than 200 pages, Pollitt has crafted a full-throated and convincing case to galvanize pro-choice voters and organizations against the erosion of abortion rights. It's a shield against concern trolls who cloak their anti-abortion laws in spurious faux sympathy for the safety of women, a sword to use when some politician cites a bogus study to promote another regressive law, and a beacon for women who have been too long fighting for their rights in the darkness of confusion brought on by well-organized agents of the religious right.
Pro is constructed around a simple goal: to win the argument against anti-abortion prevarication. Pollitt has done her homework, and the passion she brings to the book is infectious, making for an intensely satisfying reading experience. She lays the book out like a debate, anticipating arguments against abortion from the uninformed (those squishy liberal men who are uncomfortable at the idea of women just getting abortions whenever they want, as though an abortion is something akin to a pleasure cruise) and those who try to use history as a club (there's nothing about abortion in the Constitution, even though abortion has been a common practice for as long as women have been getting pregnant) and the religious (Pollitt dismantles a passage from Exodus that has become fashionable among anti-abortion crusaders, concluding that "if anti-abortion exegetes are only now finding in this rather obscure passage evidence for an absolute biblical ban on abortion, you have to wonder why no one read it that way before. The Talmud permits abortion under certain circumstances, in fact requires it if the woman's life is at stake"). One pictures Pollitt clapping the dust off her hands at the end of each chapter, looking with some satisfaction at her handiwork, and then moving on purposefully to attack the next falsehood on her list.
Pollitt interviews young women whose lives were improved by abortion. She dissects the scientific arguments about when life begins ("Your DNA is not you. It is more like the basic instructions for you. DNA is to a person as a blueprint is to a house"). And she even takes Planned Parenthood to task for not strongly defending the right to choose when the Susan G. Komen foundation tried to pull funding from the organization:
Was there no room for Planned Parenthood to add, "Yes, we perform abortions, and we are proud to offer that service to women who make the decision not to bear a child at the time, because abortion is a normal part of health care"?
Ultimately, Pollitt realizes, the argument against abortion doesn't come down to concern for the life of the unborn, or a moral certitude, or even a distaste for human sexuality. It's an argument against the freedom of women. Pollitt's fearlessness in exposing and dismissing the misogynist kernel at the center of the issue makes Pro the most fearlessly feminist book I've read in ages, a genuine work of bravery and scholarship and discourse. Am I gushing? You bet. You will be, too.