About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America

About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America


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One of the most private decisions a woman can make, abortion is also one of the most contentious topics in American civic life. Protested at rallies and politicized in party platforms, terminating pregnancy is often characterized as a selfish decision by women who put their own interests above those of the fetus. This background of stigma and hostility has stifled women’s willingness to talk about abortion, which in turn distorts public and political discussion. To pry open the silence surrounding this public issue, Carol Sanger distinguishes between abortion privacy, a form of nondisclosure based on a woman’s desire to control personal information, and abortion secrecy, a woman’s defense against the many harms of disclosure.

Laws regulating abortion patients and providers treat abortion not as an acceptable medical decision – let alone a right – but as something disreputable, immoral, and chosen by mistake. Exploiting the emotional power of fetal imagery, laws require women to undergo ultrasound, a practice welcomed in wanted pregnancies but commandeered for use against women with unwanted pregnancies. Sanger takes these prejudicial views of women’s abortion decisions into the twenty-first century by uncovering new connections between abortion law and American culture and politics.

New medical technologies, women’s increasing willingness to talk online and off, and the prospect of tighter judicial reins on state legislatures are shaking up the practice of abortion. As talk becomes more transparent and acceptable, women’s decisions about whether or not to become mothers will be treated more like those of other adults making significant personal choices.


Health Law and Policy | Law | Law and Gender




Harvard University Press


Cambridge, MA


“Clear and persuasive.”
Margaret Talbot, New Yorker

“Excellent … [Sanger] supports abortion rights, but [she] also presents the opposition to abortion fairly … Her observations are nearly always insightful and often nicely trenchant … Sanger is at her best and most original in discussing the secrecy surrounding abortions, which she sees as the biggest obstacle to public acceptance. Her argument is that even though abortion is legal, women who have an abortion tend to behave as though it weren’t. They keep it a secret even from their friends in a way that goes beyond privacy, and suggests fear of recrimination.”
Marcia Angell, New York Review of Books

“The abortion book I didn’t realize I was waiting for … Sanger (no relation to Margaret Sanger) digs into the roots of privacy around this personal decision and how it became more of a forced secrecy for so many … Sanger lays out the self-feeding loop of abortion silence – a fear of others finding out rather than a choice not to disclose. She examines post-Roe laws and court cases that have had direct or indirect implications for abortion restrictions to make her case that normalizing abortion could end this compulsory silence. The good news? It’s in our very capable hands … [Sanger] provides new tools and frameworks for forging ahead while knowing we are already on the right path.”
Katie Klabusich, Rewire

“Sanger makes a compelling case for how a private matter – choosing to have an abortion – has been so politicized and stigmatized that it has been transformed into something that women feel they must keep secret, lest they set themselves up for public shaming.”
Jordan Smith, The Intercept

“[Sanger] deconstructs the contemporary way abortion is debated, offering direction and suggestions for a new way to discuss it in the 21st century by removing the stigma silence produces. Sanger covers topics that include fetal imaging, parental consent, men and abortion, and assumptions about women who seek abortions. This is perhaps the best book ever written on the multiple facets surrounding abortion politics, law, and regulation.”
D. Schultz, Choice

“Carol Sanger understands that abortion is never an isolated event, but one that reflects the complicated realities around it. There is a great mind at work here, but one with a woman’s body, an understanding heart, and a hope that every child will be born loved and wanted.”
Gloria Steinem

“This remarkable book goes beyond abortion law and abortion politics to illuminate abortion as a lived experience, and a common one at that – a perspective far too often missing from a debate with no end in sight. An essential and timely warning to all of what happens when a constitutional right is narrowed down to invisibility.”
Linda Greenhouse, author of Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey

“Sanger takes readers on an insightful, original, and eye-opening guided tour of the practices and ‘culture’ of abortion. Even as pro-life legislators enact laws that nominally aim to provide women with information, she shows that women already know what abortion is. They know because, as Sanger persuasively argues, abortion implicates everything we deem important – life, death, sex, family, freedom, equality, and more.”
Michael C. Dorf, coauthor of Beating Hearts: Abortion and Animal Rights


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.

About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America

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