Academic journal article American Studies

ABORTION IN THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION: Before Life and Choice, 1880-1940

Academic journal article American Studies

ABORTION IN THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION: Before Life and Choice, 1880-1940

Article excerpt

ABORTION IN THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION: Before Life and Choice, 1880-1940. By Karen Weingarten. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 2014.

A solid work of American Studies scholarship should be truly interdisciplinary at the same time it strives to challenge its audience to scrutinize a deeply ingrained ideology. Karen Weingarten's Abortion in the American Imagination does this with verve. By drawing a trajectory from Anthony Comstock's attempts to regulate morality in the late-nineteenth century, to popular fiction of the early-twentieth century, to abortion's ties with economics and labor philosophy, Weingarten demonstrates that the contemporary abortion discourse of "life" and "choice" reveals that, despite crossing disciplines, the issue has landed in the nebulous realm of morality: "[...] the use of the terms life and choice is caught in liberal American ideals of individuality, autonomy, and self-responsibility, which work to obscure abortion's entanglement in larger questions of race, eugenics, biopolitics, and, of course, gender" (2-3). In order to disentangle the rhetorical moves of the contemporary abortion debate, we need to recognize that abortion discourse is bound up in a version of liberalism that, despite valuing "the autonomous, self-reliant, individual citizen who singular rights must be protected above all" (6), premises protection by the state on "recognizing only certain forms of life and only under certain conditions" (7).

To my mind, Weingarten's method of recognizing the limitations of liberalism's relationship to reproductive rights is the strongest feature of the book. Throughout, she tracks instances of the way abortion rhetoric is used to discipline women's bodies and how this alters and affects their participation in American life. Weingarten proves that white women "were disciplined into viewing their bodies as national vessels for reproduction and believing that disrupting this process was against the nation-state and their race" (19). One solid piece of evidence to this effect is her reading of The Great "Trunk Mystery" from 1871, a dime novel that sensationalized the story of a white girl found in a trunk on a Chicago train after she died from a botched abortion. The case, Weingarten argues, "made explicit the new collusion between those who explicitly care for the biological needs and those who govern those bodies through the forces of law" (25), as well as exposing the way antiabortion advocates used the racial markers of usually foreign abortion doctors to emphasize threat to the survival of white America. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.