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Fiction of the New Killers: Girls, Teenagers, and Other Misguided Female Feminists in Contemporary Young Adult Fiction on Abortion, Infanticide, and Euthanasia

Abstract:  This project evaluates abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia novels by contemporary feminist authors (Elizabeth Keenan, Carrie Mesrobian, Margaret Owen, Dianne Touchell, and Sharon Biggs Waller) according to the principles of right-to-life literary theory and provides further general commentary of those novels to assist pro-life readers in their own work of critiquing anti-life literature.

Before abortion was legalized throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever in 1973, some anti-life authors who have written work which seems to promote abortion, infanticide, or euthanasia may have been reticent about their support for those three life issues.  The presumption may have been that the reading public would not purchase their works if it were known that the author supports a practice, such as abortion, which harms mothers, kills unborn babies, and alienates fathers; or infanticide, which kills handicapped newborns; or euthanasia, which kills the elderly or the medically vulnerable.

In contrast, other authors have openly voiced their support for the abortion movement and, particularly, their support for the largest provider of abortions, Planned Parenthood.  One thinks, for example, of John Irving, author of The Cider House Rules, whose support for the abortion business galvanized both anti- and pro-life movements to the point that buying the book or patronizing the film indicated the strengths and, more importantly, purchasing power of activists in both movements.[1]

          Contemporary authors continue to support abortion groups (activist non-profits like NARAL) and organizations, which are more accurately designated as businesses by the international pro-life community (for example, Planned Parenthood), but there is a noticeable difference separating current authors from their pre-Roe counterparts.  Contemporary authors in this second decade of the twenty-first century are not only more explicit in their support of abortion organizations and businesses, but also activist in encouraging their readers to work with those abortion groups for the express purpose of defeating pro-life initiatives and life-affirming laws and stifling pro-life free speech rights.  Moreover, contemporary anti-life authors increasingly advocate support for the remaining two life issues, infanticide and euthanasia.

          The positions of the authors studied here on the life issues are not easy to locate; trying to determine their positions on the life issues involves a torturous hunt from one website to another, or from one tweet to a retweet, or from emails to the author, all of which remain unanswered.  Since this is not a biographical study of the authors themselves but a literary analysis of their works, ascertaining whether the authors support the three types of killing known as abortion, infanticide, or euthanasia may be unnecessary.  It must be relegated to future research to determine the extent to which these authors are able to separate their personal biases against human life from writing fiction which merely uses the life issues as subject matter.

          Often, however, the novels themselves will have concluding endnotes, essays, or, as in the case of Keenan’s Rebel Girls, an “Historical Note” [415-22] which declare the authors’ anti-life beliefs.  For example, while Keenan’s claim that she chose Baton Rouge in 1992 as the setting for her novel because “I wanted a setting parallel to today’s politics—something close, but not identical, to today” [415] seems innocuous and merely an effort to attain historical credibility, her declaration two pages later that “Like Athena [her protagonist], I went to a Catholic high school, and was pretty much the only pro-choice student in the school” [417] makes her pro-abortion position clear.  Similarly, Waller confesses in the “Author’s Note” in her Girls on the Verge that, although she “still feel[s] a small bite of shame” after her abortion, “It follows me to Planned Parenthood, where I work as a volunteer escort” ([223]).

          Whether the authors’ positions on the life issues can be ascertained or not, this study examines five recent novels (all written within the past six years) on the life issues by emerging feminist writers: Elizabeth Keenan’s abortion novel Rebel Girls (Inkyard Press, 2019); Carrie Mesrobian’s abortion novel The Whitsun Daughters (Dutton Books, 2020); Margaret Owen’s euthanasia novel The Merciful Crow (Henry Holt, 2019); Dianne Touchell’s infanticide novel A Small Madness (Groundwood Books, 2015); and Sharon Biggs Waller’s abortion novel Girls on the Verge (Henry Holt, 2019).  All of these items are catalogued for the children’s and young adult reading audience.

I.  Popular Criticism of the Novels

          Although scholarly criticism is virtually nonexistent, reviews of the novels are provided in the customary periodicals for librarians working with the children’s or young adult demographic, such as Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal.  These reviews, which are available on databases such as Academic Search Premier, show that the reviewers may be more concerned about the political correctivity of the novels and whether they meet anti-life feminist or LGBTQ standards rather than whether the novels constitute literature which exemplifies the traditional transcendentals of the true, the beautiful, and the good.  Since scholarly review of these five titles is rare, this study hopes to fill the gap necessary for evaluation of novels which, while they may not be well written, are popular.[2]  The following collates the reviews of the five novels according to their years of publication.

A.  Dianne Touchell’s A Small Madness

Critics of Touchell’s A Small Madness seem to have more problems with the author’s writing style than the issue of abortion.  For example, Briana Shemroske’s evaluation of the novel soars rhetorically, but misses the essential fact that the novel concerns the abortion of a human being:

Taut family dynamics, crippled relationships, and oppressive insecurities are depicted with painfully palpable candor.  Rife with secrets and impossible burdens, this is a striking story about the mistakes we make, the stigmas we face, and the intangible redemption that comes with honesty.  Tender, terse, and utterly unforgettable.  (106)

In contrast, Elizabeth Saxton avoids the usual paltry criticism of young adult novels by excoriating Touchell’s style and avoidance (or inability) to write about the life-destroying practices of abortion and infanticide, resulting in the final “verdict” which is the customary ending for any novel reviewed in School Library Journal:

Unfortunately, an interesting story is overtaken by shallow characterization, teen voices that do not ring true, and needless and sometimes digressive point-of-view changes.  Readers know only token things about the protagonists beyond the pregnancy, to the point where it is unclear whether Rose has an intellectual disability or is simply an unbelievably naive 17-year-old.  This work reads like a dated Beatrice Sparks–style cautionary tale where teen sex has the worst consequences imaginable and no male character misses a chance to label a girl a slut.  Despite a frustrating lack of detail at the book’s crucial moment, the omniscient narrator’s description is frequently substituted for elements that should be shown through characters’ actions.  VERDICT Not recommended, because of poor narrative style and stock characterizations.

A Kirkus Reviews analysis supports the problem in writing style that Saxton suggests:

Part cautionary tale, part exploration of the madness bred by desperation, this is a difficult but powerful narrative inspired by a true story.  Although it ends in frustrating ambiguity, the story is riveting enough to read in one sitting.

Told with compassion and empathy, a conversation starting look at the dangers of keeping a pregnancy secret.

B.  Elizabeth Keenan’s Rebel Girls

Keenan’s Rebel Girls has received little scholarly attention since its publication in 2019.  Kirkus Reviews offers a flaccid evaluation of the novel:

Beyond the abortion debate, this provides a necessary focus on the importance of young women supporting one another across differences.  Echoing the punk-rock feminist movement of the early ’90s, debut author Keenan creates a timely narrative that will challenge teens to reflect on their personal values and engage in respectful discourse.

Alex Graves’ brief critique of the novel in School Library Journal is much more trenchant:

Stock characters fill most roles, all of whom start and end this politically charged story with the same viewpoints.  Athena handles her relationships with sufficient complexity, but politically she just says the term “riot grrrl” a lot, rather than exemplifying, or even struggling with, its principles.  Though she asks “What would Kathleen Hanna do?” her answers are often superficial.  (123)

C.  Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow

Owen’s The Merciful Crow has received more critical attention, although that attention often scrupulously avoids the right-to-life issue of euthanasia by using the euphemism “showing mercy”, as is the case with Erin Downey, who writes that the main character’s “small band of Crows are tasked with visiting stricken households, disposing of the dead victims, and showing mercy to those near their end” (52).  An even more egregious deflection from the euthanasia intent of the novel is Downey’s emphasis of LGBTQ elements in the work:

One especially nice touch is the baseline assumption that queer characters are so normal in this world as to be a nonissue—one background character, for example, uses they/them pronouns with no fanfare or explanation.  Many readers wouldn’t notice this detail, but queer readers and their allies likely will appreciate it.  (52-3)

While a Publisher’s Weekly review also comments on the LGBTQ element, saying the novel is “filled with diverse characters with fluid sexualities and identities” (94), it comes closer to the subject matter of euthanasia, although using a euphemism and misleading language usually associated with euthanasia: the Crows “alone can safely dispose of plague victims and grant mercy killings to them when appropriate” (94), a review which leaves the reader further wondering what conditions would satisfy the nebulous “when appropriate” language. 

          Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews summary of the novel highlights what it considers positive aspects of the work and the politically-correct axioms of the LGBTQ agenda, but omits the negative subject of euthanasia:

Debut author Owen offers well-balanced worldbuilding and a propulsive plot and excels at tender, intimate moments and complicated, realistic romantic and familial relationships.  Lacking an overt historical or geographic parallel, the tale instead features a cast spectacularly diverse in class, gender, sexual orientation, and race [….]  Rich, harrowing, and unafraid to tackle discrimination [….]

M. J. Franklin uses the common euphemism for euthanasia in a New York Times Book Review critique, but having the phrase in the title of the review clearly identifies for the reader that the subject matter is not “fluid sexualities” or “worldbuilding”: “A teenage mercy killer is out to restore the rightful prince of her plague-ravaged land in this thriller” (22).

D.  Sharon Biggs Waller’s Girls on the Verge

          Criticism of Waller’s Girls on the Verge shares some of the attributes of the feeble reviews already mentioned, but, since the novel responds to anti-life Texas Democrat Wendy Davis, who opposes Texas’ pro-life laws, the political tone of the pro-abortion movement becomes evident in many of the reviews.  The earliest, from Kirkus Reviews, sounds as though it was written as a public relations piece for a pro-abortion organization:

While readers will come to care about the characters and their relationships to some degree, the important informational content takes precedence overall.  Meant to “sound an alarm,” Waller’s […] book is highly informative, filled with frank, detailed descriptions of our nation’s restrictions on reproductive health as well as the emotional and physical experiences of abortion.  A Forever-esque story for reproductive justice, this is a timely and vital book.

Betsy Fraser continues the critique-as-pro-abortion-communique in her review of the book:

This compelling novel opens with a stark and timely reminder of a woman’s right to choose in June 2014, when there were only 19 abortion clinics left in Texas, a state which included five million women of reproductive age.  Waller realistically depicts the 17-year-old’s struggles to get an abortion, from ending up at a clinic where she’s prayed over, with a doctor who won’t do anything without parental consent, to facing a judge who won’t bypass parental consent as he’s sure he’s doing what’s best for her.  This title offers realistic viewpoints on teenage pregnancy, along with what it is like to have the right to choose, wanting that right, and living knowing that you will be judged for having exercised it.

Maggie Reagan continues the attack on Texas’ pro-life laws thus:

Complicating the situation are Texas’ prohibitive abortion laws: it’s a year after Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster and Governor Rick Perry’s restrictive bill.  [….]  The story occasionally has the unnerving feel of a dystopia, despite taking place in the recent past: Camille travels hundreds of miles, crosses into dangerous border towns, and faces the judgment of legal and medical professionals as well as people she knows.  The narrative sometimes treads into the expository, but Camille’s story is absolutely essential [….]  (70)

The only other review of Waller’s novel is an extremely brief entry in School Library Journal which reads as a plot summary more than a critique.  The item does, however, identify the unborn child to be killed as a “baby”: “Camille […] is horrified to find herself pregnant from her first and only sexual encounter, and unwilling to give her future up for a baby with a boy she’s never spoken to again” (66).

E.  Carrie Mesrobian’s The Whitsun Daughters

Abby Hargreaves’ critique of Mesrobian’s The Whitsun Daughters is nebulous, if not rhapsodic: “With touches of magic and a firm hold on the details that make reality real, this balances a historical story alongside something decidedly of today’s era, while making both feel timeless” (68).  Mesrobian’s suffers the same flaccidity in Kirkus Reviews as Keenan’s work, with a crucial difference: it omits the essential fact that Mesrobian’s novel concerns abortion:

Emphasis is placed on the parallels between Jane’s life and the lives of the Whitsun girls: the complexities and joys of love and sex, unplanned pregnancies, mental illness, and the trials that women and girls often endure at the expense of their minds and bodies.

II.  Pro-Life Literary Criticism of the Five Novels

          The five novels studied here could be critiqued from a variety of literary theories used in colleges and universities, but doing so would reduce the commentary to simplistic affirmations or negations of those theories.  For example, all of the novels could claim their support for anti-life feminist acceptance and promotion of abortion as empowerment of women, liberation of girls and young women from oppressive patriarchy, or some other formulation of the novels meeting standard and trite feminist literary theory criteria.  Justifying these feminist terms is best illustrated by the persistent emphasis on “commitment to the riot grrrl revolution’s feminist message” in Keenan’s Rebel Girls (13).

Similarly, all of the novels could be examined from a Marxist perspective, and a politically leftist academic or reader would have no problem in determining that the novels are solidly in the camp of the ideological resister of oppressive capitalist forces in society.  Waller’s Girls on the Verge best justifies the application of Marxist literary theory; the novel’s reviewers note that it is a novel supporting Wendy Davis’ claim that Texas pro-life laws are somehow oppressive and not protective, especially of young women who lack the means for the “empowerment” which is supposedly gained when an unborn child is killed in abortion.

These are only two examples to illustrate how applying the standard literary theories to these novels becomes a simple reduction of whether or not the novels comport with feminist, Marxist, or other literary theories.  Much more interesting and productive would be determining whether the five novels can be evaluated from a right-to-life perspective.

I have proposed elsewhere[3] five questions which are designed to stimulate discussion of controversial literature on the life issues much more comprehensively.  Briefly, the questions concern whether the literary work argues for the pricelessness of human life, whether the work respects the individual as someone who has an inherent right to life, whether the work respects heterosexual normativity, how the work depicts human life at various stages, and whether characters realize the divine presence in the world as they face their mortality.  Each of these questions will now be asked of the five novels under discussion.

A.  The Pricelessness of Human Life

          One would find it difficult to determine if any passage in any of the five novels support the idea that human life is priceless.  Certainly, the life of the unborn or newborn child is not valued, so the reader must conclude that the born characters must find their own lives worth living.  This is not the case, however, since no character seems to rejoice in being alive.  Rather, life is more drudgery than opportunity to make a positive contribution in the world.

          Complicating the matter are two aspects which affect the ability to determine if the five novels evaluate human life as priceless: first, the ambiguity and distortion of the feminist agenda, as in Keenan’s Rebel Girls, and, second, the aggressive personalities of characters (such as Fie, the main character in Owen’s The Merciful Crow) which obscure whether they are capable of experiencing genuine love.

          Answering this question with Keenan’s Rebel Girls in mind is more complex than a simple affirmation or negation.  Athena, the narrator, says that she has a “commitment to the riot grrrl revolution’s feminist message” (13).  Even though her response is an example of the begging the question logical fallacy, the illogicality of her statement can be resolved here.

          First, of course, a character who explicitly argues that anything other than declaring that human life is a priceless good has already disavowed the pricelessness of human life.  Granted, affirming the “riot grrrl revolution’s feminist message” does not exclude affirming human life as a priceless good in the philosophical sense.  Given the context, though, the educated reader knows that the “feminist message” that Athena stipulates is contrary to a life-affirming respect for human life.  Readers know that, absent being clearly identified as pro-life feminism, contemporary feminism supports abortion and rejects the role of the father in any abortion decision.

          Even Athena’s litany of riot grrrl beliefs is either naïve or dishonest, since she does not mention abortion or the customary euphemism used by anti-life feminists, “reproductive rights”, when the only item in the litany which comes close to the topic of abortion is listed.  “I knew what the riot grrrl ideals were,” she declares; “Claiming your sexuality, no matter what that meant to you, was a good thing.  And the revolution was open to anyone” (19).

          Moreover, readers should understand that those characters who support “the riot grrrl revolution’s feminist message” place themselves in positions of power over the unborn child.  In essence, the characters who support abortion decide that they are superior human beings.  Their rejection of unborn human life based on their position of privilege and power over the unborn makes them contemporary eugenicists, like the eugenicists of the early twentieth century who subordinated African Americans and immigrants from southern Europe as inferior beings—the same positions that Margaret Sanger, founder of the abortion business Planned Parenthood, held.  Thus, affirming the pricelessness of human life is impossible for anybody who commits to the grrl revolution version of feminist philosophy.[4]

          Understanding the view that the main character Fie, the lead character in Owen’s The Merciful Crow, has towards human life is challenging since is a belligerent, angry, and often dour sixteen-year-old teenager.  (How appropriately, then, is this character named!)  Fie is often sarcastic, arrogant, and belligerent, especially toward “pretty boys”: “Half of her wanted to slap him” (105).  While these personality traits may be the author’s effort to depict Fie as a strong young woman, able to maneuver in a male world (a standard feminist trope), they may instead obscure her belief that some human lives (particularly, male ones) are not as valuable as hers.  Certainly, the antagonism between her “nation” (the Crows who kill people afflicted with the plague) and the monarchy and its supporting aristocracy suggests not merely distrust between social castes, but also a deeper belief of the inequality of human beings.

          More profoundly, Owen’s setting is a pagan fantasy world of indeterminate chronology where traditional ideas long established in the West are no longer valid.  Where contemporary society does not consider disease the result of sin, characters in Owens’ novel identify plague victims as “sinners”; in fact, the causal relationship is replaced with the equation that disease (such as the plague) equals sin: “the Crows had true sinners to burn” (74).

B.  Respect for the Individual’s Right to Life

          Like other anti-life fiction, all of the novels considered here respect only those individuals who are born and either ignore or devalue the lives of unborn human beings.  Moreover, the violence evident in some of the works suggests that the respect for born characters is tenuous.  This is most evident in Owen’s The Merciful Crow, where the killings of plague victims indicate that palliative care is unheard of for those suffering with the disease and where constant antagonism between the nation of Crows (the euthanasia killers) led by Fie and aristocratic forces often leads to warfare.

In fact, a distorted sense of “nationalism” in the novel controls most moral actions, exemplified by the refrain that runs throughout the text of serving “the nation” first (318).  Thus, human lives are subordinate to the state, a political position in Owen’s fantasy world approximating the anti-life ideologies of communism or Nazism, which claimed millions of lives in our real world.

C.  Heterosexual Normativity and Integrity of the Family

          As is typical of most young adult novels aimed to hook teens into reading (an admittedly difficult task, as every secondary teacher and college faculty can attest) by titillating them with sexuality in fiction, sex is just an activity, not the sexual union of a husband and wife for the purposes of obtaining pleasure and being open to reproduction.  For example, Touchell’s A Small Madness exemplifies the characteristics of all of these young adult attitudes about sex.  After the first sexual activity scene (9), Rose’s friend Liv offers the controlling perspective in the novel that Rose “should have had sex by now [….] everyone else had had sex” (12).  Although Michael, Rose’s lover, has a brother, Tim, who concedes that men must obtain permission from girls before having sex with them, the young people’s thinking about sex is further muddled when Tim thinks that Michael should first have sex with a “slut” (15).  To reinforce the characters’ myopic views about sex, Liv is “happy” about Rose’s fornication and thinks that condoms are the answer to avoiding pregnancy and enjoying sexual activity (34-5).  Given such negative and hedonistic views about sex, it is no wonder, then, that Michael thinks that pregnancy is a “mistake” (79).

          The related matter of this question (the integrity of the family) is further challenged in these novels.  The heterosexual normativity of Athena’s, the main character’s, family in Keenan’s Rebel Girls is typical.  While Athena subscribes to “the riot grrrl revolution’s feminist message” (see above), Athena’s sister Helen is pro-life, and her mother is anti-life.  The ideologies of her divorced parents are exemplified by the following: her father is a social justice Catholic (“We didn’t go to church on Sunday or anything”; 33), and Athena’s mother’s reaction to her having a boyfriend is to send her “a box of condoms or another copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves” (40).

          Despite the myopic feminism which surrounds most female characters in these five novels, heterosexual normativity cannot be avoided.  For example, Athena acts like a stereotypical girl around a young man who fascinates her: “I seemed to forget everything about being a feminist when I was around him” (77).  When Kyle, the teenaged boy whom Athena falls for, kisses her, they go “to the rec room’s aging leather couch” (115) where they were “making out” (117).  Athena’s angst for seeming to abandon her misandrist feminism occurs throughout the novel.  “I felt like a bad feminist for caring that people saw I was on a date with a hot guy”, she says [198].  Later she asks, “Was it supposed to make me feel better to be validated by a guy’s agreement?” (215), a situation which she concludes is a “patriarchal conspiracy” (216).

D.  The Inherent Right to Exist of the Unborn, Newborn, and Mature Adults

          Most of the novels studied here engage in standard dehumanization, notably the use of the third-person pronoun singular “it” to refer to the unborn child.  A few examples will illustrate how pervasive this dehumanization is.

          While one use of “it” in Touchell’s A Small Madness is ambiguous (whether the term refers to the teens’ reactions about the pregnancy in general or to the unborn child him- or herself; see page 64), the uses of “it” to refer to the unborn child are extensive, closely followed by “thing” as another term to demean the unborn child.

          Liv, the best friend of Rose, the aborted mother, suggests that she “get rid of it” (56).  Rose thinks the baby is not already, but “would […] become a real thing” (56).  Michael, Rose’s lover and father of the child, also queries, “Could they get rid of it?” (58).  Rose thinks of the baby as “the thing” and “it” (67).  Michael calls the unborn child an “it” who is now “like a manatee in his spinal fluid” (85).  When she thinks she is not pregnant but just has a delayed period, Rose declares that “I just created this thing in my mind” (115).  After she miscarries, Rose simply states that “It went away” (124).  When Michael and she reflect on what to do with the child’s body, Rose commands Michael, “Bring it to me”; “’It must be buried,’ Rose said again” (126; italics in original).  Looking at the corpse of the child, Rose calls her “the tiny gray thing” (128).  Even when he is drunk, Michael obsesses over the child’s burial, saying, “We buried it” (159).

          Two of Touchell’s items of dehumanizing language towards the unborn child are certainly unique: snot and virus.  Michael compares having an abortion to “picking your nose” (58).  Certainly, likening his own unborn child (daughter) to snot says a great deal about this wayward young man.

          Equating the unborn child to a virus continues a long-established trend in the fictional anti-life lexicon.  Michael concludes that his father’s disappointment in him is “just as much a virus as this thing inside of Rose” (62).  He repeats the metaphor later, referring to “this virus inside her” (82).  Rose herself uses this metaphor often, as when she says, “I have a virus in me” (97) during pregnancy and “The virus had gone away” (172) after she miscarries.

          Athena in Keenan’s Rebel Girls makes her ethical stance clear regarding the right to life of the unborn child when she states, “There wasn’t anything wrong with having an abortion” (95).  Later, she will lapse into a euphemism when she tells a classmate who was an abortion clinic escort that it must be “rewarding to help everyone” (238), “help” neutralizing and replacing the killing which occurs in every abortion.

          Given her strong pro-abortion position, it is out of character, then, for the reader to see that Athena is shocked at seeing pictures of fetuses looking like babies: “Fetuses that didn’t look like the nebulous tadpole creatures I was used to seeing in biology books, but baby-like.  Even the tiniest of fetuses looked like a chubby newborn” (139).

          Waller’s Girls on the Verge continues the dehumanization of the unborn child to be aborted, where Camille directly states that she wants to “get rid of it” (22).  She further shows her ignorance of biology when she asserts, with two more rapid uses of the depersonalized pronoun, “Stop saying baby!  It’s not a baby; and it never will be” (28; italics in original).  Camille’s stammer regarding how an abortifacient would affect her is a stylistic feature the author uses to denote the hesitation that anyone should experience over this moral issue: “I need to be near a toilet because…because.” (78; ellipsis in original).

          As is typical of most abortion novels, especially those written for the young adult audience, the killing of the child in Waller’s novel occurs in a brief paragraph which, although it attempts to suggest that abortion is easy, defies the truth of any abortion and attempts to nullify the post-abortion syndrome trauma that mothers who have aborted experience:

          Dr. Maria inserts something in me.  I feel a pressure in my stomach followed by a pain that feels like the worst period cramps I’ve ever had.  But the pain only lasts a few seconds.  My paper drape rustles, and I feel the doctor’s hands as she helps me put my legs down.

          “You’re all done now, Camille.”  (213)

Note how the painful killing of the unborn child is obscured behind “the pain” that the mother herself feels, the verb “feel” repeated several times.

          Disrespect for mature human life is obvious in Owen’s The Merciful Crow.  The euthanasia killings of plague victims begins as the first sentence on the first page (“Pa was taking too long to cut the boys’ throats” 3), continues to an instance where a plague victim’s throat was cut (“There was a savage jerk.  The sinner died smiling” 65), and advances to another instance where cutting someone’s throat is euphemistically called having “dealt mercy” (205).

E.  Realizing the Divine Presence When Faced with Mortality

          Religious influences are rare to find in the five novels, unless they are used to mock Christians who advocate a pro-life position or to denigrate a character’s upbringing.  This lack of religious sensibility has always been a common universal aspect of abortion fiction written for adults and has increasingly become a constituent feature of abortion fiction written for children and young adults.

          Having established this lack of religious training, the first clause of the question to be asked of the five novels leads to a similarly striking feature: virtually all of the young adult characters in the five novels do not consider their own mortality, not even the mothers who contemplate abortion as a possible risky surgical or chemical abortion procedure.  In fact, four of the five novels concern teen mothers seeking surgical abortion, which is decreasing as the favored means to abort, being replaced with chemical abortions.

          The exception is Mesrobian’s The Whitsun Daughters, where the chemical abortion spans fifty pages and is depicted contrary to the experience of other mothers who aborted using RU-486 or other abortifacients.  Where the aborting mother in Mesrobian’s novel simply states, “The cramps are bad” (155), Abby Johnson described the pain involved in her chemical abortion as “sheer agony” (47).  That authors would gloss over women’s pain in chemical abortions is not only unconscionable, but also fatal to fiction which strives for realism in contemporary abortion decisions.

          The religious influences that do exist to help characters perceive a divine presence in the world are superficial.  For example, Michael, a character in Touchell’s A Small Madness, gets his morals from film (17), even though he was supposedly raised in a religious family (49).  His father, presumably, is depicted as a fundamentalist Christian (63).  On the specific religious matter of life after death, whether those characters believe in an afterlife is not affirmed, but ambiguously suggested.  For example, Liv, a character in Touchell’s A Small Madness declares that “life was just too damn short” (30).  However, this statement is ambiguous; calling life brief could indicate either that one appreciates every moment of life before death or that the only life one has is his or her current existence.  Similarly, a religious sense is replaced in Keenan’s Rebel Girls with another means of technology.  When Athena “needed some inspiration”, she goes to her records (118).

          Although the main characters in Touchell’s novel do not perceive any divine presence as a result of the mortality of their dead child, it is interesting that Rose is becoming “disconnected” and “more detached and confused” (172) after the death and burial of the child.  Moreover, when the police come to speak with Rose, this thrust into reality is called “this disconnection” (181); Rose is now a “vacuous caricature” (186).  Whatever personality disintegration has occurred, Rose is sane enough to sense “relief” from Michael after he apparently confessed his part in the child’s burial to police (189).

          If the worldview of Keenan’s novel is difficult to identify, then that of Owen’s The Merciful Crow is slightly more identifiable.  Religious elements are mentioned throughout the sprawling novel, but none seems to be the controlling religious or ethical force in the characters’ lives.  References to “god-grave shrines” (21) and that a “Covenant” was made between the gods and humans (49-50), even abbreviated terms like “viatik” (a truncation perhaps of the Latin term “viaticum” 194), suggest that Owen’s fictional world has some religious foundation.  However, since the chronology is uncertain (is the novel set in pre-history or a futuristic society?), the reader is bereft of certainty about the source of the characters’ life-and-death decisions.  Not even the ambiguous “Code” casually referenced throughout the novel is explained.

III.  Further Commentary of the Five Novels

          The following general comments are further reactions to the five novels.  They are designed to enhance the above commentary and to assist pro-life readers in their own efforts to critique and publish book reviews of literature which uses the life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia as its subject matter.

A.  Dianne Touchell’s A Small Madness

          Touchell’s A Small Madness is a well-written novel with both standard and clever dehumanizing language used by abortion supporters.  Touchell continues the dehumanizing technique made famous by Ernest Hemingway (calling the unborn child an “it”), and she adds several new twists to the anti-life/pro-abortion dehumanizing lexicon.

          What critics have not yet commented on, however, is that Rose clearly manifests post-abortion syndrome (PAS).  The novel is not a typical teen abortion work, where the mother goes to an abortion clinic to have the child killed.  Rose is miscarrying the child, so the abortion occurring in this novel is not an elective, but a spontaneous abortion, morally neutral.  What may interest the reader more, though, is determining whether Rose’s intention and efforts to kill the unborn child herself (by smoking, depriving herself of food, etc.) meet the criteria of moral culpability in the child’s killing.  What is even more important in supporting the claim of PAS is that Rose follows a trajectory of personality defragmentation after the miscarriage and after the police come to speak with her on finding the baby’s body which the teens buried in an empty lot.

B.  Elizabeth Keenan’s Rebel Girls

          Keenan’s Rebel Girls is a chore and a bore, an unconvincing plot which is more a 412-page psychiatric case study of a teen girl suffering from an outdated anti-life version of feminist ideology who discovers her innate heterosexual normativity.  Essentially, Athena, the first-person narrator who is anti-life, wants to help her pro-life sister Helen overcome rumors circulating in their high school that Helen had an abortion, which would ban her from being part of the Homecoming.

          The essence of this plot was identified on page 95.  By page 369, the reader understands that all it took to overcome a teacher’s ban preventing Helen from being in the Homecoming was a call from her father to the principal.  Towards the end of the novel (page 402), Sr. Catherine, dean of discipline at the high school, vows not to expel another student who had aborted, so there was no issue worth writing about anyway.  Why, then, should any pro-lifer read 307 pages of a severely introspective unconvincing plot?

          Furthermore, Athena’s preaching about abortion is equally unnecessary.  Athena mentions “abortion rights” (22), and so, being a typical anti-life feminist, Athena felt the need to talk about a pro-life crisis pregnancy center as a “fake abortion clinic” (61).  Worst of all is Athena’s claim that “There wasn’t anything wrong with having an abortion” (95)—a statement willfully ignoring post-abortion syndrome which, even in the novel’s setting of 1992, was obvious for mothers who chose abortion instead of one of several life-affirming options.

          Athena may have committed an egregious Freudian slip when she admitted that the novel’s entire abortion language is unnecessary to the feeble plot.  When she and her friend enter the crisis pregnancy center, Athena lets slip that “none of this was really related to Helen, other than the associated topic of abortion” (135).  This novel, then, is not about “abortion stigma” ([419]) or feminist empowerment of women (which is a pro-life concept).  Why, then, talk about abortion at all?  The reader would counter that it would have been better just to narrate the story of a teenage girl who addressed rumors which were responsible for preventing her from going to Homecoming.

          Of course, the real purpose of Keenan’s novel is political.  Athena goes into an anti-Republican rant when she claims that “Republicans were priming the nation for a fascist dictatorship” (53).  The author herself declares her pro-abortion position.  Thus, it is simply typical that a pro-abortion writer must ignore contemporary pro-life achievements and turn to 1992 (nearly thirty years ago) to force abortion into a novel merely concerned with a vapid Homecoming.

C.  Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow

          The 369 pages of Owen’s The Merciful Crow are difficult to plow through.  Although the plot is tedious and implausible, and the text could be rewritten in detailed paragraphs instead of one-liners, readers can use some ideas from this novel to promote pro-life views about the sanctity of human life and the importance of heterosexual normativity.

          The sematic distortion in the novel is obvious.  Just as euthanasia supporters try to rename the killing of the elderly and the medically vulnerable as “death with dignity” or some other euphemism, the main characters in Owen’s novel give “mercy” to persons either suffering from illness or dying.  The Crows do not provide mercy, of course; they kill the people.  Pro-lifers can use this novel as an example of the linguistic distortion used to kill humans in an ancient pagan, albeit fantasy, world.

          A major problem of the novel is conceptual.  If Fie, the main character, has the power to create magic to make herself and others invisible to her enemies or to heal wounds obtained in battles, then why could she not use her magic skills to provide palliative care for or outright cure those who are terminally ill?

          Moreover, Fie’s knowledge of herbal sources used as either contraceptives or menstrual aids (171) indicates that even the pagan world in which Fie lives has great knowledge of natural remedies.  Why, then, could her society not have discovered a natural palliative to relieve the pain of those in a terminal condition?

          Furthermore, perhaps the reason why Fie is so belligerent and angry throughout the novel is that she is stuck in the caste of being a killer.  Her character comports with the contemporary view that abortionists and euthanasia supporters are incredibly unhappy people.

          On the lighter side, the sex scene between Fie and Tavin is comedy at its best, thunder and all (241-243).  Yes, it is supposed to be titillating and probably is for young adult readers; mature persons, of course, would read these pages and laugh.

          Besides being humorous, this sex scene reinforces heterosexual normativity.  Fie and Tavin are not moral exemplars; they are typical teens who think that sex is just an activity to generate pleasure instead of the expression of love between married persons.  It is extremely interesting, therefore, to see how the ever-snotty Fie has softened under the influence of having sex with a male (254).  Similarly, heterosexual normativity transforms Tavin’s idea about his purpose in life from a negative to a more positive one (243).

          Whether promoting these pro-life ideas and heterosexual normativity was the author’s purposes or not (the book jacket identifies Owen as someone who raises “money for social justice nonprofits”), pro-life readers can find much in the novel to show how humans who are in pain or afflicted with disease should not be killed.  Rather, their pain should be alleviated and their illnesses cured.

D.  Sharon Biggs Waller’s Girls on the Verge

          If she reduced her 221-page Girls on the Verge teen abortion novel 90%, Waller would have matched Ernest Hemingway’s famous abortion short story “Hills Like White Elephants.”  Unfortunately, the reduction would not have improved the work; it would still be tedious and trite.

          Educated readers have read stories like this before, and the plot is getting tedious.  Camille is a pregnant teen mother who wants to kill the unborn baby using abortifacients and corrals her friends into helping her buy the drugs.  When the abortifacients fail to kill the child, she succeeds in having an office of the abortion business Planned Parenthood kill the unborn child.  Not even the anti-male bias of the characters, or their angry feminism, or their “situation” (Camille lives in Texas, which has protective legislation to stop abortion as far as constitutionally permitted) changes the fact that this is just another teen abortion story.

          Fortunately for the pro-life movement, however, Waller’s novel shows how distortion of language is absolutely necessary to promote an anti-life narrative from an anti-life author.  (Waller states that she is a volunteer for the abortion business Planned Parenthood [223].)  The distortion of language is something pro-lifers can use as teachable moments to persuade mothers to reject abortion.

          A significant stylistic feature is that the novel uses pauses and ellipses to show that even an anti-life author like Waller has her characters hesitate using the word “abortion” or any word referring to the unborn child, usually called a “fetus.”  Waller uses the technique of literary “stuttering” or “stammering” in several places.  Camille’s abortifacients would have her deliver the child: “I need to be near a toilet because…because” (78; ellipsis in original, and the sentence ends with terminal punctuation after the repeated subordinating conjunction).  Camille’s friend Bea asks, “How big will it be? […] “The…you know” (78; ellipsis in original).  Bea’s hesitancy in talking about the unborn child to be killed by abortifacients continues: “to cover the, uh, you know—” (197).

          An egregious linguistic slip occurs when Camille comments on a time “when you can feel the baby kick” (178).  Was this deliberate, a Freudian slip, or an error on the part of the virulently pro-abortion author?

          If the author’s stated intention is to help mothers and young women boast about the abortion killings, then these characters have far to go to force themselves into thinking that the medical assault called abortion is a good thing.  Moreover, the characters of this anti-life work must, of course, utter the standard canards of ignorance of bodily difference and that abortion is something which affects only the mother’s body.  For example, Camille’s friend Annabelle (a stridently anti-male feminist who volunteers for the abortion business Planned Parenthood) utters her ignorance when she says, “It’s none of my business what you do with your body” (105).

          Even Camille, rabid teen anti-life feminist that she is, cannot escape post-abortion syndrome (PAS), as is evident when she rhetorically asks, “How do you deal with awful things that happen?  How do you forget them?” (199).  It is obvious, then, that she will never “forget” the abortion killing which she arranges.

          Pro-lifers who are more activist, such as protesters outside the offices of the abortion business Planned Parenthood, will be greatly encouraged by two statements in the “Author’s Note” about the effectiveness of pro-life picketing.  “Despite our best efforts to shield patients,” Waller writes, “they can’t help but notice the protesters” (224).  Waller testifies to the effectiveness of pro-life protesters again when she writes that “the political anti-choice [pro-life] movement is strong.  There are protesters at nearly every abortion clinic” (225).

          While the novel can be read in several hours, it is still a feeble plot and may lead to the conclusion that it is not worth the time.  Pro-life activists, however, can use it as further evidence that anti-life authors continue to use the same standard and tiresome literary strategies to dehumanize the unborn child.  They can also be encouraged that their witnessing outside abortion clinics accomplishes the great effect of saving lives, both the mother’s and the unborn child’s.

E.  Carrie Mesrobian’s The Whitsun Daughters

          The masturbation scenes in Mesrobian’s The Whitsun Daughters are titillating but not as remarkable as the euphemisms hiding the chemical abortion plot.  Of course, the scenes which abuse male sexual power are meant for the sexually immature (teens or young adult readers).  Serious readers (everybody else) can use Mesrobian’s fiction as yet more evidence of the linguistic gymnastics, if not duplicity, which pro-abortion characters use to promote a practice which harms mothers, kills unborn children (whether surgically or, as in this case, chemically with abortifacients), and alienates fathers.

          The euphemisms to refer to the killing practice called “abortion” are numerous.  Daisy, a main character, expresses surprise that “the things required to unmake a pregnancy would be sold someplace as ordinary as Walmart” (84).  “Unmake a pregnancy” is a novel euphemism containing not only one logical fallacy, being the question.  (Exactly how was that pregnancy made in the first place and what or who was made in that pregnancy?)  The phrase also contains a negation which should provoke the reader to ask, if a pregnancy can be unmade, then the pregnancy existed before being unmade, and, if it existed, then an unborn child existed in that pregnancy.

          Daisy’s claim that her aunt “knows someone who—” (87) with the dash indicating that the sentence is unfinished is a literary technique other writers have used to hide the fact that characters are talking about, yet again, abortion.

          The chemical killing of Lilah’s unborn child is discussed with the usual impersonal third-person pronouns and deceptive language.  “It’s starting”, Poppy says, using “it” to refer to the abortion (155).  Poppy “explained […] that it would be slowly happening now, the lining shedding in layers of blood and tissue” (157).  “It”, of course, refers to the abortion, and “the lining shedding” obscures the fact that it is not only “the lining” which is “shedding” but the unborn child him- or herself who is being killed by “shedding” along with the “lining” and “tissue.”

          Daisy’s boyfriend Hugh asks if her sister is “not-pregnant” (160).  The narrator records Daisy’s reactions that “whatever lived inside in Lilah began its descent” (162).  Translation: the dead body of the unborn child, now separated from his or her warm and life-giving uterus and therefore dead, is being passed out of that uterus, thanks to an abortifacient drug which his or her aunt gave to his or her mother.

          One character’s Freudian slip—“to get rid of the baby” (174)—is quickly covered by deceptive abortion language a page later when Lilah talks about what some mothers did to “expel the contents of the uterus” (175).

          Just like other abortion novels, whether written for teens or adults, post-abortion syndrome is obvious even here, in a novel whose characters clearly do not advance pro-life ideas and are hostile to religious persons who are pro-life.  Typical of mothers who have aborted, Lilah seems happy after her abortion (197), but Jane’s last reminiscence, which closes the novel, suggests that Lilah suffers from post-abortion syndrome: “She thinks of the babe she did not have; she ponders names late at night in bed, her eyes on the once-fractured seam in the celling.  When I watch her, I find myself remembering what I cannot reclaim.  It is the closest I can come to human pain now” (208).  This is not literary evidence of abortion which is supposed to make a woman happy.  It is, obviously, literary evidence of post-abortion syndrome.

          Overall, Mesrobian’s work could suggest a fascinating paper for a pro-life student to write about the dishonest language which abortion-minded characters and authors use to dehumanize the unborn child, to suppress evidence of post-abortion syndrome, and to ignore the role of the father.

IV.  Final Comments

Self-righteous, oblivious to diversity of ideas (such as there being a pro-life perspective on ethical issues), and trying yet failing to use the tired tropes of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia narratives to a twenty-first century readership, contemporary feminist authors have generated some novels which induce somnolence more than lively interest in their narratives.  Moreover, contrary to some of their expressed goals, their novels generate respect for life instead of activism for the three categories of killing which affect millions of human beings.

When society recognizes that support for abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia belongs in the trash bin of history as much as slavery of Africans or the aggressive LGBTQ agenda which distorts heterosexual normativity, the anti-life feminist novels studied here will be added to the long list of literary works whose dehumanizing ideology results in the deaths of millions of human beings.  While these novels seem to bolster the fabricated “right” to abort an unborn baby, to kill a newborn child, or to deny palliative care to a terminally-ill or medically vulnerable person, one hopes that contemporary readers can identify the dehumanization in the novels and reject it.

Works Cited

Downey, Erin. [Review of The Merciful Crow]. School Library Journal, vol. 65, no 6, July 2019, pp. 52-3.

Franklin, M. J. “A Teenage Mercy Killer Is out to Restore the Rightful Prince of Her Plague-Ravaged Land in This Thriller.” New York Times Book Review, 25 August 2019, p. 22.

Fraser, Betsy. [Review of Girls on the Verge]. School Library Journal, vol. 65, no. 1, February 2019, p. 78.

Girls on the Verge (book review). Kirkus Reviews, vol. 87, no. 4, 15 February 2019.

Girls on the Verge (book review). School Library Journal, vol. 65, no. 12, winter 2020, p. 66.

Graves, Alex. [Review of Rebel Girls]. School Library Journal, vol. 65, no. 8, Sept. 2019, p. 123.

Hargreaves, Abby. [Review of The Whitsun Daughters]. Booklist, vol. 116, no. 21, 1 July 2020, p. 68.

Irving, John. Trying to Save Piggy Sneed. Arcade, 1996.

Johnson, Abby. Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line. Ignatius Press, 2010.

Keenan, Elizabeth. Rebel Girls (Inkyard Press, 2019).

Koloze, Jeff.  “Cinematic Treatment of Abortion: Alfie (1965) and The Cider House Rules (1999).” Proceedings of the Sixteenth University Faculty for Life Conference at Villanova University, 2006. Ed. Joseph W. Koterski. Washington, DC: University Faculty for Life, 2007. 463-78.

—. “Right-to-Life Issues in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Literature.” University Faculty for Life: UFL Life and Learning Conference XXVIII. http://www.uffl.org/pdfs/vol28/UFL_2018_Koloze.pdf.

The Merciful Crow [book review]. Kirkus Reviews, vol. 87, no. 11, 1 June 2019.

The Merciful Crow [book review]. Publishers Weekly, vol. 266, no. 21, 27 May 2019, p. 94.

Mesrobian, Carrie. The Whitsun Daughters. Dutton Books, 2020.

Owen, Margaret. The Merciful Crow (Henry Holt, 2019).

Reagan, Maggie. [Review of Girls on the Verge]. Booklist, vol. 115, no. 15, 1 April 2019, p. 70.

Rebel Girls (book review). Kirkus Reviews, vol. 87, no. 15, 1 August 2019.

“The Riot Grrrl Revolution.” Equality Archive, 2021, https://equalityarchive.com/issues/riot-grrrl-revolution/.

Saxton, Elizabeth. [Review of A Small Madness]. School Library Journal, vol. 62, no. 5, May 2016, p. 122.

Shemroske, Briana. Booklist, vol. 112, no. 19/20, 1 June 2016, p. 106.

A Small Madness (book review). Kirkus Reviews, vol. 84, no. 7, 1 April 2016, p. 107.

Touchell, Dianne. A Small Madness (Groundwood Books, 2015).

Waller, Sharon Biggs. Girls on the Verge (Henry Holt, 2019).

The Whitsun Daughters [book review]. Kirkus Reviews, vol. 88, no. 12, 15 June 2020.


[1] In “My Dinner at the White House”, Irving admits that he “gave a rousing speech in favor of abortion rights, and lambasting [President] George Bush—from an exclusively Planned Parenthood perspective, mind you” (166).

I have argued in “Cinematic Treatment of Abortion: Alfie (1965) and The Cider House Rules (1999)” that, although The Cider House Rules is an abortion novel whose ideological message is that that life-denying practice must remain legal, both the novel and film can be used as evidence affirming the pro-life principle that abortion destroys lives more than liberates women.

[2] As of July 2021, all five novels are held by 2,008 library systems, with Owen’s The Merciful Crow having the highest count of 754 libraries.  Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank ranges from the low of Touchell’s A Small Madness (3,528,291) to the high of Owen’s The Merciful Crow (54,049).

[3] See my “Right-to-Life Issues in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Literature.”

[4] The possible exception is that one can subscribe to the music generated by grrrl bands without necessarily accepting the anti-life positions of the lyrics of grrrl band songs—this, despite the fact that such bands are no longer part of the music scene, just as rap is giving way to trap as a dominant music genre.  Appreciating grrrl band music is consistent with the idea that a literary artifact, even an anti-life one, can be studied and appreciated for its intrinsic merits.

Moreover, like other anti-life feminist movements, the rabid pro-abortion positions of the “riot grrrl” blip in feminist history can be found only on sites which use the euphemism “reproductive rights” for the killing procedure called abortion.  See, for example, Equality Archive’s mention of “bands and fans [who] rallied together at reproductive rights benefits and demonstrations and held lively discussions, refusing to be left out of the larger political conversation.”

Categories
Papers

Literary Analysis of Abortion in the Short Story “Explosions” by Mo Yan of the People’s Republic of China

Abstract:  This paper reviews demographic considerations of abortion and the one-child policy in the People’s Republic of China which form the basis for contemporary literary works which concern abortion.  After a brief discussion of other fictional works, the paper focuses on abortion passages in the short story “Explosions” (1985) by Mo Yan.[1]  The literature is reviewed using formalist explication and aspects of reception theory.

Keywords: Chinese literature, abortion, criticism

          A review of any literary work on abortion in the People’s Republic of China presents researchers with an immediate problem.  Should discussing the topic rely on sociological documentation of abortion as practiced on the mainland, or does another perspective apply?  Can one take strictly a political view towards the matter, or does one need to consider factors usually associated with other literary theories, such as the role of women from a feminist literary viewpoint or the confrontation of ideologies from a Marxist perspective—the latter being the literary theory one would almost automatically think would apply when speaking about life in Communist China?  For purposes of this study, the practices of formalist explication combined with reception theory seem to be the optimum means by which selected literary artifacts will be evaluated, primarily because the theories can afford American researchers and students of literature insights into the interaction of the ideological confrontation between official, received statements on one of the most controversial matters in the Chinese world (national policies on birth control and reproductive rights when confronted with failed birth control leading to abortion) and the notions held by millions of Chinese whose attitudes and opinions towards compulsory birth control and forced abortion are becoming increasingly evident in the West.

Abortion and Demographic Concerns in the PRC

          The number of annual abortions performed in the People’s Republic is staggering, estimated by Aird (1990)[2] at eight million per year between 1971-1985 for a total of 111,960,987 abortions (p. 40).  Other sources indicate the figure is close to thirteen million annual abortions currently versus twenty million live births; thus, about 40% of all pregnancies per year are aborted (Canaves, 2009).[3]  What is perhaps most curious about the number of abortions performed is that the wide practice of abortion in China is the result neither of a history of abortion agitation, nor conflicting official pre-1949 medical commentary on the acceptance of abortion as an ordinary medical practice.  In fact, if the exploration of Nie (2005)[4] into Buddhist and Confucian respect for pre-natal life is accepted, then Chinese history argues against such an openness towards abortion.[5]  Countering claims that abortion in China was implicitly allowed because there was no clear prohibition against it, Nie further argues that

While it is true that the early medical literature rarely if ever explicitly proscribes performing abortion, this should probably not be interpreted as representing a permissive attitude on the part of ancient doctors.  Rather, the silence is likely to indicate that medical abortion was regarded as so obviously unethical that there was no need to include it in lists of professional precepts, just as medical ethics documents whether ancient or modern rarely explicitly state that physicians should not murder or kill.  (p. 78)

As early as the late 1970s scholars had discussed demographic changes in the PRC and considered the consequences of several official policies designed to curtail population growth, including compulsory birth control and abortion of a second child.  While pointing out that official population figures were difficult to determine (since the PRC had not devoted sufficient resources to determine the extent of population growth after the founding of the nation and because of censorship[6]), Aird (1982)[7] had commented on the disastrous effects that complete implementation of the one-child policy would have on China:

There are some disadvantages to a too-rapid reduction in fertility.  Sudden changes in the size of age cohorts cause similar changes in the demand for age-related goods and services, in the facilities and personnel that provide them, and in the allocation of resources that they require—changes that can result in dislocations and inefficiencies that adversely affect national development.  Both Lin and Liu have indicated that the Chinese family planning authorities do not expect or want to achieve the sudden, universal adoption of the one-child family because they are aware of the problems of a distorted age-sex structure; but family planning propaganda and some of the provincial family planning regulations convey a different impression.  (p. 289)[8]

          Contemporary scholars often elaborate the effects of these policies within the larger context of their areas of studies, whether political or social criticism.[9]  Pronouncements from the PRC itself ratify the notion that China is experiencing a dire population situation.  The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America states that

Some lawmakers and family planning officials support [a law explicitly banning sex-selective abortions] because of the serious imbalance in the ratio of genders in the population.  China has 119 boys born for every 100 girls, much higher than the global ratio of 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls.[10]

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences confirmed this gender imbalance in a January 2010 report, which “indicates the figure has climbed to 120 boys born for every 100 girls as of 2006 and says that, by the end of 2008, there were 38 million more men in China than women born after 1980” (Ertelt).[11]

Literary Response to Abortion in the PRC

          What is perhaps the most noticeable feature of abortion in the PRC is the silence attending it at the popular level.  In virtually every other nation abortion as a political issue rouses intense passions; demonstrations on both sides of the issue and legislative efforts to address abortion matters are standard events elsewhere.  Many scholars, including Mosher (1993)[12] and Nie (2005), have argued that fear of the consequences of speaking against official abortion policy may account for the inaccurate perception that abortion enjoys apparent support in the PRC.

          There are, however, emerging voices of dissent towards the national policies on reproductive matters, and their presence is significant given the new liberty of thought finding its expression in literary matters, which is a relatively recent phenomenon in the PRC.  Mo Yan[13] (2001) asserts this renaissance of liberated thought about controversial issues in his discussion of how China moved from having writers produce politically-correct work to a literature in tune with their own sensibilities:

As the 1970s wound down, our Chairman Mao died, and the situation in China began to change, including its literary output.  But the changes were both feeble and slow.  Forbidden topics ran the gamut from love stories to tales of Party blunders; but the yearning for freedom was not to be denied.  Writers wracked their brains to find ways, however roundabout, to break the taboos.  This period saw the rise of so-called scar literature, personal accounts of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution.  My own career didn’t really start until the early 1980s, when Chinese literature had already undergone significant changes.  Few forbidden topics remained, and many Western writers were introduced into the country, creating a frenzy of Chinese imitations. (p. xv)

          Moving from a general statement about political correctivity to wondering why the Chinese are silent about abortion specifically, Nie (2005) asserts:

Creative writers enjoy greater freedom of speech in China today than scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and literary works often constitute the best window into the concerns and opinions of ordinary people on many social issues.  While a medical humanities scholar may fail to find an outlet for an article that argues that abortion is ethically wrong, a fiction writer may sometimes be able to express a similar opinion without falling afoul of the authorities.  (pp. 29-30)

In fact, the apparent Chinese silence on abortion seems to negotiate two principles which Nie isolates: first that “guarding one’s tongue is a basic survival strategy in an authoritarian regime” (p. 35) and, second, that “the bitter pain of abortion for many Chinese [is] a pain that goes beyond what words can describe” (p. 36).  The latter is an eminently challenging task for writers. [14]

                Admittedly, the dissent against abortion could be challenging for literary critics to evaluate, embedded as it is in works which still struggle to stay within the cultural and mostly political norms attendant on literary production within the PRC.  Some critics may even be hesitant or reluctant to discuss abortion in contemporary Chinese literature at all.[15]  Perhaps critical reticence can be attributed to a myopic view of various theories.  For example, feminist criticism of the literature on abortion in the PRC could be developed, were it not for a stifling political correctivity that prevents feminist critics from evaluating literature which shows abortion in a negative light.  Other literary theories may be similarly saddled with political perspectives which influence their perception and interpretation of the literature.  One aspect of literary concern that needs to be developed, however, is the juxtaposition and interaction of official pronouncements on abortion in the PRC and writers’ responses to those pronouncements.  Of all the literary theories that could help to make certain Chinese works more meaningful to Western readers, especially on the controversial topic of abortion, formalist and reception theory, with their focus on the literary artifacts themselves, will seem the most effective tools to use to assist the reader in an appreciation of the literature.

          Two works which exemplify the contentions between official pronouncements and creative effort must move this discussion to a well-established genre in Chinese literature (the poem “Abortion” by Zhen Zhang[16]) and a relatively new genre (the short story “Explosions” by Mo Yan).  Poetry in the PRC may be on the forefront of a revolutionary trend that Western scholars are commenting on with greater frequency.  Crespi (2009)[17] comments thus on developments of modern poetry in the PRC post-Cultural Revolution:

[O]fficially sanctioned Mao-era poetry recitation, while unique in terms of the pressures placed on performers to measure up to extreme ideological standards of the times, represents just one episode in a continuing history of poetry recitation as a cultural practice.  Even as the theorists and practitioners of recitation invoked a quite modern idea of pure revolutionary passion, the concept of expression informing that invocation derived from China’s earliest poetic theory.  Moreover, examining official poetry recitation also gives the lie to the myth of a uniquely monolithic revolutionary culture, especially when one considers reciters’ own reception of these poems.  Instead of the transparency and assured purity of intent that one generally experiences when reading the era’s officially sanctioned poems in written form, reciters’ accounts of giving concrete voice to the poetry intimate a sense of self-doubt spurred by formidable ideological dilemmas—dilemmas that eventually even appear in print on the pages of poetry recitation primers. (pp. 166-167)

It is especially interesting that any deviation from the accepted script of government-acknowledged poetic production occurred in the vocal production of such poetry—vocal delivery perhaps being a freer mode than print, which could more readily affect an artist’s career.

          Written poetry on abortion is becoming just as revolutionary as its recitation counterpart.  The poem “Abortion” by Zhen Zhang is a representative example of Chinese authors who begin to broach the topic as a way of responding to official PRC positions.  The poem has marked similarities with other post-abortion syndrome poems with which Western readers are familiar, such as Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Mother”[18] or Lucille Clifton’s “The lost baby poem.”[19]  One item in the critical commentary about the poet is repeated consistently: mysteriousness.  According to Tao (2006)[20] the “self” that Zhang writes “is spontaneous, capricious, sometimes mysterious [; she] remains very much herself as a woman in her creation of mysterious urban worlds [and is credited with] a type of metropolitan women’s writing in which the self remains mysteriously private” (p. 23).

          This mysteriousness could obscure the resistance implied in the poem by one key term: “I looked long into my uterus at your unwarranted being” (p. 132).  Granting the accuracy of the translation, that the child should have been called “unwarranted” and not “unwanted” or “undesired” suggests a deeper conflict at work in an otherwise straightforward poem manifesting the trauma of post-abortion syndrome.  Moreover, what is absent from the poem is especially telling.  Nowhere can an allusion be found to the abortion as having been essential to the survival of the nation, an idea found in other texts which suggest abortion as a “remedial measure” (the standard euphemism used to refer to abortion) meant to guard against excessive population growth.  Instead, the narrator speaks of how the unborn child’s “brothers and sisters will all be informed / that you are the oldest son” (p. 132), a futuristic claim that the one-child policy does not apply in her case since the persona will have other children.

The Short Story “Explosions” (1985) by Mo Yan

          “Explosions” by Mo Yan is perhaps the clearest literary work on abortion to be considered which responds to official PRC positions.  The narrative concerns a man in the Chinese armed forces whose wife is illicitly pregnant with a second child.  Against the wishes of his father, the husband forces his wife to abort the child.  This simple reduction of a fifty-page short story ignores several elements that illustrate the conflict between official pronouncements on the forced abortion policy and implementation of that policy and its effects on ordinary Chinese citizens.

          The story is notable for containing three “official” references to abortion as a population control measure.  Interspersed evenly in the story (the first and second references are announced early in the story and then halfway through the narrative), the first reference occurs when, questioned by his father regarding why his wife must abort, the narrator refers to official orthodoxy:

Think I wouldn’t like to have a son?  But I already have a daughter; I’ve already been issued a one-child certificate.  As a government cadre, I have to take the lead in responding to the nation’s call.  How can I avoid it?  (p. 3).

The rhetorical questions are unanswered, forcing the reader to examine the passage in detail.  The above passage opens with a question, not an assertion of the man’s desire, and testifies to the subordination of the individual’s interest to that of the state.  That not one, not two, but three statements of fact immediately follow the man’s subordinated desire is noteworthy in two respects; the accumulation of facts becomes overpowering to the man himself and to his wife, pregnant with an illicit child.  The rhetorical effect is obvious.  A person could attack one fact well; arguing against two facts is more challenging, requiring more effort; presenting three or more reasons to support an issue could make an attack against an argument cumbersome.  Attacking one’s argument bolstered by three solid reasons is even more difficult in a narrative which purports to be a transcription of a dialogue between characters on the controversial matter of abortion.  Thus, the man makes any challenge to his position that much more difficult for his wife.  The hierarchy of the facts further disables challenges to the official abortion policy.  Acknowledging one’s social obligation to the state (“responding to the nation’s call”) should precede the issuance of “a one-child certificate,” which in turn leads to the birth of a licit child.  Here, the chronology is reversed, and the more personal and intimate fact of the existence of a human being is replaced by the impersonal fact of the national duty, the last fact mentioned, resonating in the minds of both the husband and his wife.  The last rhetorical question of the passage thus closes all opposition to the one-child policy: it is ineluctable.

          The second reference to the official PRC policy is even smaller in terms of words.  Trying to reason with his wife, the narrator says, “Just think, there are a billion people in China.  If everyone has two children, what’s going to happen to China?” (p. 24).  This rhetorical question, too, is unanswered, and the power of the passage can be understood by a closer examination of the elements.  Here, however, one fact is related, followed by an acknowledgement that most families would want to have more than one child.  This passage ends with the rhetorical question that forces one to speculate, not on the future of the more personal family unit, but of the abstract nation.[21]

          The third reference to PRC abortion ideology, however, breaks the author’s or the character’s inability to answer questions about the one-child policy and invites substantial commentary.  While the following passage does not answer the questions involving the prevention of free will and the social effects of the PRC’s abortion policy, much information is provided to empower the reader to excavate answers him- or herself.  In the abortion clinic’s waiting room, the narrator reaches in a drawer for a book that a nurse had consulted and recounts:

In my tense gropings, my hand bumps into Obstetrics; Obstetrics bumps into my hand.  I can’t wait to open it.  It smells of iodine and hand cream.  Nurse An has made red and blue marks to highlight the black lines of text and has scribbled notes in the white margins.  The obstetrics expert writes: Knowledgeable people world-wide have expressed grave concern over the rapid growth of population.  The accelerated pace of population growth has already seriously destabilized the planet.  Humanity is heading for a devastating outcome: a population explosion ….  Nurse An notes: How I envy you, Liu Xiaoqing!  The obstetrics expert writes: Induced abortion is an effective measure in the thorough implementation of birth control policy.  We must rid the masses of women of their horror of it.  At the same time we must recognize that abortion is not minor surgery.  Neither the one performing it nor the one undergoing it should take abortion lightly.  Nurse An notes: Zorro is a great guy.  Anna is a fine girl.  I’ve got to …  (pp. 51-52; ellipses in original)

This passage contains several elements worthy of attention vis-à-vis literary responses to the PRC policies regarding forced abortion.  The first item which is immediately noticeable is the use of the antimetabole or chiasmus, a literary figure of speech that had not been used heretofore in the story and which is thus obvious on first reading.  The suddenness alerts the reader that the passage is significant, an action comporting with the purpose of an antimetabole or chiasmus (to emphasize the paradox of a situation).[22]

          The Western reader may not realize the importance of the use of the title of the obstetrics book; in the United States publication by the United States Government Printing Office is restricted to official federal documents, whereas all publication in the PRC is controlled by the state.[23]  Instead of identifying the source for the “information” which follows as the government of the PRC, the author chose to represent the government by the title of a volume officially sanctioned by the government.  Thus, the use of synecdoche becomes especially important as a safe, politically-correct instrument of reaction to the PRC policies.

          Moreover, the “obstetrics expert” is significantly anonymous, in contrast to the interpolation, twice, of a clearly identified human being, Nurse An, whose commentary after each of the expert opinions has nothing to do whatsoever with the official statements.  Nurse An’s comments certainly interject comic relief into an otherwise serious situation.  The anonymous obstetrics author proclaims in a  stand-alone sentence that “Neither the one performing it [abortion] nor the one undergoing it should take abortion lightly.”  One wonders whether the admonition to maintain sobriety in the performance of abortion extends to the literary performance as well, which, in this case, has obviously been abrogated by not one, but two instances of humor.[24]

          Finally, the absence of quotation marks throughout the story (which does not impede determining who is speaking) does have an ancillary effect in this passage.  The ostensibly objective claim by the obstetrics expert about a “population explosion” (bolstered by an ambiguous source called “knowledgeable people world-wide”) is as unsubstantiated as the claim that “Induced abortion is an effective measure in the thorough implementation of birth control policy.”  The lack of an identifiable source of these bold claims reduces them to mere slogans, a linguistic artifact with which many Communist Chinese are familiar.  Nurse An’s claims, in contrast, are much more personal and subjective.  The reader would tend to believe the nurse’s claims for several reasons: they are “revolutionary,” having been written in the margins of a politically-correct medical textbook; they are personalized, containing the high human emotions of envy and love; lastly, they are inviting in the sense that a reader could identify either with Liu Xiaoqing, a popular film star, or with Zorro, a swashbuckling hero.  One could not easily identify with the impersonal claims of an official textbook when one is offered identifiable humans instead.

          Oblique criticism of the abortion policy of the PRC certainly helps to create passages of literature which are enjoyable not only to read, but also to examine, and the hesitancy to openly criticize the abortion policy in fiction is understandable if one thinks of the political consequences that writers would suffer if their works became too counter-ideological.  Even Mo, who asserted so forcefully in a 2001 anthology of his short stories that contemporary Chinese writers aim “to break the taboos” (Shifu, p. xv)[25] of the Mao era, finds it difficult to challenge state orthodoxy directly.  In “Abandoned Child,” a short story written in the mid-1980s which concerns infanticide more than abortion, the narrator, who saves a newborn girl abandoned in a field, relates a near apology for government ineptitude:

The period after Liberation, owing to improvements in living standards and hygiene, saw a significant drop in the occurrences of abandoned children.  But the numbers began to rise again in the 1980s when the situation grew very complicated.  First, there were no boys at all.  On the surface, it appeared that some parents were forced into acts of inhumanity by rigid family planning restrictions.  But upon closer examination, I realized that the traditional preference for boys over girls was the real culprit.  I knew I couldn’t be overly critical of parents in this new era, and I also knew that if I were a peasant, I might well be one of those fathers who abandoned his child.  (Shifu, p. 172)

          Three matters in this passage are worthy of attention.  First, “infanticide,” the deliberate abandonment of a newborn child with the intent to have the child die, is euphemistically called an “act of inhumanity.”  Second, the revolutionary fervor of the Mao era seems to have held everything in place, for it was “after Liberation” that “living standards and hygiene” improved; however, it is significant that “the situation grew very complicated” a decade safely removed from the Mao era (“in the 1980s”).  Finally, responsibility for the intended infanticide rests neither with the government nor provincial family planning cadres notorious for overzealousness in forcing abortion on peasants; the “real culprits” are not even the parents, but the “traditional preference for boys over girls.”[26]  Perhaps the reticence to target official PRC material and sources indicates that the liberty of thought which Chinese authors strive for is still emergent.

Future Research and Questions

          Unlike American, Canadian, and European literature, no full-length novel concerning abortion as a primary topic in Chinese literature is yet available in translation.  According to Feeley, Mo’s most recent novel, Frogs (2009),[27] “is about a woman whose job is to enforce the one-child policy”; however, Mo’s translator, Howard Goldblatt, affirms that the novel, recently released in Chinese, will be translated into English by the end of 2010 (personal communications).[28]

          Similarly, no film devoted to the issue of abortion is available for study.  The film Xiu Xiu [The Sent Down Girl] (1998)[29] could be included in this paper as an example of directorial response to the abortion policy of the PRC but has been excluded for several reasons.  First, the abortion episode purely illustrates a reaction to an undesired pregnancy resulting from multiple sex partners, not a pregnancy resulting either from failed contraception or a target of the PRC’s one-child policy.  Second, the abortion episode, although depicted as an obviously negative choice on the part of the mother, speaks more about the changed character of the young woman send from the city to the steppes during the Cultural Revolution than it says anything as a statement against PRC policies.  Finally, the abortion episode is altogether much too brief and does not amplify the failed relationship between the aborted mother and the man who platonically loves her.  Moreover, no full-length drama on abortion has been discovered that can merit study.

          The dearth of abortion narratives across genres may change, however, when Chinese women find their “voice” to express their feelings and thoughts about their abortions.  Western readers are familiar with the empowerment that women experienced during the twentieth century feminist movement when women could speak freely about their marriages, their employment, and—most importantly—their sexual dissatisfaction and past abortions.  Voicing such concerns led to important developments for American women.  Thus, Mosher’s A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy (1993) could qualify as a narrative on the forced abortion policy within the feminist tradition.  The Chinese women who either aborted or performed abortions who responded to Nie’s sociological surveys may become freer to express their feelings and thoughts on abortion in longer literary works—such thoughts and feelings still trapped behind the phrase “so bitter that no words can describe it.”

          While many questions remain and must be relegated to future research, three can be offered here in closing.  First, why is Chinese abortion literature not commonly studied in the West?  Are all such writings from Chinese women on the issue of abortion similar to samizdat, underground literature?  Some examples of an emerging literature documenting women’s abortion experiences, especially those involving post-abortion syndrome, have been identified above, and many more exist that have not been included in this study.  Exploring such literature may help Westerners to appreciate these women’s experiences and to share in their suffering.

          Second, how will the West respond to narratives depicting the Chinese forced-abortion situation?  Politically, the West’s reaction to the extreme population control measures in the PRC often depends on the ideology represented in the White House or 10 Downing Street.  One hopes that, besides responding to the extremely poignant situations of women living in the harshest of totalitarian regimes, Western critics and readers will act to alleviate their suffering despite ideological differences.

          Third, perhaps the most difficult question to address, can the Chinese abortion experience as evidenced in contemporary fiction assist Westerners in a reevaluation of the effects of legalized abortion in their own countries?  Most Western nations have had legalized abortion for several decades now, and its disastrous social effects—whether legalized only in special circumstances or, as in the case of the United States, legalized throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever—are increasingly documented by researchers, especially those concerned with post-abortion syndrome.  One hopes that the Chinese experience can encourage the West to confront abortion problems honestly—as honestly as Mo Yan attempts in his work on the subject.


[1] Mo, Y. (1991). Explosions and Other Stories. Ed. and trans. Janice Wickeri. Hong Kong: Chinese U of Hong Kong.

[2] Aird, J. S. (1990). Slaughter of the innocents: Coercive birth control in China. Washington, DC: AEI Press.

[3] Canaves, S. (2009, July 30). China’s 13 Million Annual Abortions Flagged as a Cause of Concern. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2009/07/30/chinas-13-million-annual-abortions-flagged-as-a-cause-for-concern.

[4] Nie, J.-B. (2005). Behind the Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

[5] See especially chapters three, four, and seven wherein Nie evaluates the positions of the major religions toward abortion and respect for pre-natal life in the Imperial and Republican eras.

[6] To illustrate the effects of censorship on this issue, Aird (1982) states:

The main reason so few national population data appear in Chinese sources, however, is central censorship.  No national population figures can be made public without prior authorization by the State Council.  Even officials of the SSB [State Statistical Bureau] cannot use such figures in their articles and speeches until they have been cleared.  This policy has been in effect since the earliest years of the PRC.  It was applied more stringently between the collapse of the Leap Forward in 1959 and the fall of the “gang of four” in 1976, but it has never been relaxed entirely.  To this day, the full results of the 1953 census have not been made public.  The very brief census communiqué issued upon the completion of the work in November 1954 gave only the national total, breakdown by sex, ethnic group, rural and urban residence, and province, and a few details about age composition and the extent of errors in enumeration.  (p. 271)

Government censorship of scholarly activity is well-known, but the following example by Aird vis-à-vis the issues of concern in this paper further illustrates its disastrous effects:

After the start of the Leap Forward in spring 1958, Mao reaffirmed his earlier views that a large population was an asset for China’s national development, adding that poverty was beneficial for China because it made people more revolutionary and inclined toward change.

For the next four years birth control work languished.  Other spokesmen echoed Mao’s sentiments, and all but one of the Chinese scholars who had stressed the importance of controlling human fertility were silenced.  The economist Ma Yinchu, who had argued the urgent need for control of population growth on grounds very similar to those now used to justify the same policy, courageously refused to abandon his convictions, despite some 200 attacks on him in 1958 alone, and continued to defend his position until 1960, when he was obliged to surrender his post as president of Beijing University and was refused further access to the public print.  (Aird, 1982, p. 283)

[7] Aird, J. S. (1982, June). Population studies and population policy in China. Population and Development Review, 8(2), 267-297.

[8] See also his endnote 78: “A recent study has shown that the sudden adoption of the one-child family throughout China could seriously distort China’s age-sex structure by the year 2000 and even more so by 2050 and cause wide swings in dependency ratios” (p. 296).

[9] See, for example, the following anthologies and monograph: Gloria Davies, ed., Voicing Concerns: Contemporary Chinese Critical Inquiry (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), Hok Bun Ku’s Moral Politics in a South Chinese Village: Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Resistance (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), and Lawrence R. Sullivan, ed., China Since Tiananmen: Political, Economic, and Social Conflicts (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1995).

[10] The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America. (2006, June 6). Abortion law amendment to be abolished.” Retrieved from http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/xw/t260068.htm.

[11] Ertelt, S. (2010, February 5). Report: China’s One-Child, Pro-Abortion Policy Creating Nation of Bachelors. Retrieved from http://www.lifenews.com/int1432.html.

[12] Mosher, S. W. (1993). A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

[13] “Mo Yan” (translated as “Don’t Speak”) is Guan Moye’s nom de plume.  Cataloging systems in American libraries consider “Mo” as the author’s surname, and this formatting of the Chinese name will be followed here.

[14] The short story “I Am Not a Cat” by Tang Min (Running Wild: New Chinese Writers. Eds. David Der-Wei Wang and Jeanne Tai. Trans. Amy Dooling. New York: Columbia UP),  originally published in 1990, may be one of many narratives which attempts to verbalize what is excruciatingly difficult for many Chinese women.  Reading not so much as a fictional account as much as a diary entry, the narrator uses first-person pronouns as she relates the miscarriage that her cat suffers and her own abortion at a provincial clinic.  The story openly speaks of the “One Child Per Family policy” (p. 159).  The narrative concerning the abortion itself is similar to other accounts with which Western readers may be more familiar.  This short story, then, may be one of many forthcoming explorations of abortion experiences that Chinese women may come to write.

[15] For example, Wang (2000) [The literary world of Mo Yan. World Literature Today 74(3): 487-494] summarizes the short story “‘Baozha’ (Eng. ‘Explosions’),” which concerns the one-child policy and abortion, as the story of “a young man trapped in the uncertainty and restlessness of marriage and family, who achieves temporary release by means of explosive bodily movements” (p. 493).

[16] Zhang, Z. (1993). Abortion. Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry. Ed. Tony Barnstone. Hanover, NH: U P of New England.

[17] Crespi, J. A. (2009). Voices in Revolution: Poetry and the Auditory Imagination in Modern China. Honolulu, HI: U of Hawaii P.

[18] Brooks, G. (2000). The Mother. Literature for Composition: Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. (5th ed.). Eds. Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto, William E. Cain, and Marcia Stubbs. New York: Longman.

[19] Clifton, L. (1987). The lost baby poem. Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969‑1980. Brockport, NY: BOA Editions.

[20] Tao, N. (2006). Introduction: The Changing Self.” Eight Contemporary Chinese Poets. Sydney: Wild Peony.

[21] The merger of the idea of the individual, the family, and the nation might be perfectly consistent, however, with Chinese philosophy.  Nie asserts that Chinese culture necessarily conflates the notions of “country,” “people,” and “society” in ways that Western readers would find difficult to understand (p. 55).

[22] Corbett calls the figure of speech “antimetabole” in the third edition of his Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (New York: Oxford UP, 1990, p. 442) while Murfin and Ray identify the figure as “chiasmus” in the second edition of their The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003, pp. 53-54).

[23] One work of Mo Yan’s not used in this study suffered state censorship, but the work was published as originally intended, thanks in part that a Western (Taiwanese) publisher existed to print it.  The note by Howard Goldblatt, the translator of Red Sorghum (New York: Viking. Trans. of Hung kao liang chia tsu. Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Publishing House, 1987 [1993]), states:

At the request of the author, this translation is based upon the Taipei Hongfan Book Co. 1988 Chinese edition, which restores cuts made in the Mainland Chinese edition, published in 1987 by the People’s Liberation Army Publishing House in Beijing.  Some deletions have been made, with the author’s approval, and minor inconsistencies, particularly in dates and ages, have been corrected.  (copyright page)

[24] The specific mention of the colors red and blue could also reference another counterrevolutionary act of Nurse An if one considers these colors traditional ones used in editing and correcting texts.  Commenting on Mo’s novel Red Sorghum, Braester (Mo Yan and Red Sorghum. The Columbia companion to modern East Asian literature. New York: Columbia UP, 2003) writes that

The novel’s rich imagery also seems to undermine official nationalist narratives.  The color red that pervades the story—from the red sorghum and the red dog leader to the blinding red light and the generous splashes of blood—is far different from the glorious red flag of the PRC, the color of which is thought to have come from the blood of revolutionary martyrs.  If Mo Yan’s sensuous colors lend themselves to symbolic interpretation, it is one that goes against the grain of official PRC ideology. (p. 542).

[25] Mo, Y. (2001). Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh. Trans. Howard Goldblatt. New York: Arcade.

[26] Mo ends this section of the story, an enumeration of “four general categories” of “abandoned children” (p. 170) with a statement that seems to apologize for any challenge to the political orthodoxy of the preceding paragraphs: “No matter how much this concept tarnishes the image of the People’s Republic, it is an objective reality, one that will be difficult to eradicate in the short term.  Existing in a filthy village with foul air all around, even a diamond-studded sword will rust” (p. 172).

[27] Mo, Y. (2009). Wa [Frogs]. Shanghai: Shanghai wen yi chu ban she.

[28] The author wishes to thank Mr. Joseph Hau, Chief Business Strategist for PacifiComm Associates, LLC,  and Ada Wong and Linda Dowling (Chinese researchers/interpreters) for their extensive research into and translation of internet literary resources critiquing the novel.  Mr. Hau answered numerous questions concerning contemporary Chinese culture and translated key Chinese terms to assist in an explication of the novel’s plot and major themes.  Persons interested in learning more about business strategies in the People’s Republic of China or other nations within his company’s scope may reach him at the Columbus, Ohio corporate office: 614-442-7614.

[29] Xiu Xiu [The Sent Down Girl]. (2004). Dir. Joan Chen. Perf. Lu Lu, and Lopsang. [Videodisc]. Paramount.

Categories
Papers

Analysis of Abortion in Select Literature from The People’s Republic of China

Abstract:  This study reviews two literary works on abortion from the People’s Republic of China, the poem “Abortion” by Zhang Zhen and the short story “Explosions” by Mo Yan.

          A review of any literary work on abortion in the People’s Republic of China presents researchers with an immediate problem.  Should discussing the topic of abortion rely on sociological documentation of abortion as practiced on the mainland, or does another perspective apply?  Can one take strictly a political view towards the matter, or does one need to consider factors usually associated with other literary theories (such as the role of women from a feminist literary viewpoint or the interaction of ideologies from a Marxist perspective—the latter being the literary theory one would almost automatically think would apply when speaking about life in Communist China)?  For purposes of this study, the practices of reception theory combined with formalist explication seem to be the optimum means by which selected literary artifacts will be evaluated, primarily because the theory can afford American researchers and students of literature insights into the interaction or juxtaposition of the ideological confrontation between official, received statements on one of the most controversial matters in the Chinese world (national policies on birth control and reproductive rights when confronted with failed birth control leading to abortion) and the notions held by millions of Chinese whose attitudes and opinions towards compulsory birth control and forced abortion are now becoming evident in the West.

Abortion and Demographic Concerns in the PRC

          The number of annual abortions performed in the People’s Republic is staggering, estimated by Aird (1990) at eight million per year between 1971-1985 for a total of 111,960,987 abortions (Slaughter, p. 40).  Other sources indicate the figure is close to thirteen million annual abortions currently versus twenty million live births; thus, about one-third of all pregnancies per year are aborted (Canaves, 2009).  What is perhaps most curious about the number of abortions performed is that China has neither a history of abortion agitation, nor conflicting official pre-1949 medical commentary on the acceptance of abortion as an ordinary medical practice.  In fact, if the exploration of Nie (2005) into Buddhist and Confucian respect for pre-natal life is accepted, then Chinese history argues against such an openness towards abortion.  (See especially chapters three, four, and seven wherein Nie evaluates the positions of the major religions toward abortion and respect for pre-natal life in imperial and Republican eras.)  Countering claims that abortion in China was implicitly allowed because there was no clear prohibition against it, Nie further argues that

While it is true that the early medical literature rarely if ever explicitly proscribes performing abortion, this should probably not be interpreted as representing a permissive attitude on the part of ancient doctors.  Rather, the silence is likely to indicate that medical abortion was regarded as so obviously unethical that there was no need to include it in lists of professional precepts, just as medical ethics documents whether ancient or modern rarely explicitly state that physicians should not murder or kill.  (p. 78)

          As early as the late 1970s scholars had discussed demographic changes in the PRC and considered the consequences of several official policies designed to curtail population growth, including compulsory birth control and abortion of a second child.  While pointing out that official population figures were difficult to determine (since the PRC had not devoted sufficient resources to determine the extent of population growth after the founding of the nation and because of censorship), Aird (1982) had commented on the disastrous effects that complete implementation of the one-child policy would have on China:

There are some disadvantages to a too-rapid reduction in fertility.  Sudden changes in the size of age cohorts cause similar changes in the demand for age-related goods and services, in the facilities and personnel that provide them, and in the allocation of resources that they require—changes that can result in dislocations and inefficiencies that adversely affect national development.  Both Lin and Liu have indicated that the Chinese family planning authorities do not expect or want to achieve the sudden, universal adoption of the one-child family because they are aware of the problems of a distorted age-sex structure; but family planning propaganda and some of the provincial family planning regulations convey a different impression.  (“Population,” p. 289)

          Pronouncements from the PRC itself ratify the notion that China is experiencing a dire population situation.  The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America states that “Some lawmakers and family planning officials support [a law explicitly banning sex-selective abortions] because of the serious imbalance in the ratio of genders in the population.  China has 119 boys born for every 100 girls, much higher than the global ratio of 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls.”  The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences confirmed this gender imbalance in a January 2010 report, which “indicates the figure has climbed to 120 boys born for every 100 girls as of 2006 and says that, by the end of 2008, there were 38 million more men in China than women born after 1980” (Ertelt).

Silence Surrounding Abortion in the PRC

          What is perhaps the most striking feature of abortion in the PRC is the silence attending it at the popular level.  In virtually every other nation abortion as a political issue rouses intense passions; demonstrations on both sides of the issue and legislative efforts to address abortion matters are standard events in other nations.  Many scholars, including Mosher (1993) and Nie (2005), have tried to address the reasons why popular attitudes towards the abortion policy of the PRC seem to signify only support from citizens.

          There are, however, emerging voices of dissent towards the national policies on reproductive matters, and their presence is significant given the new liberty of thought finding its expression in literary matters, which is a relatively recent phenomenon in the PRC.  Mo Yan (2001) asserts this renaissance of liberated thought about controversial issues in his discussion of how China moved from having writers produce politically-correct work to a literature in tune with their own sensibilities:

As the 1970s wound down, our Chairman Mao died, and the situation in China began to change, including its literary output.  But the changes were both feeble and slow.  Forbidden topics ran the gamut from love stories to tales of Party blunders; but the yearning for freedom was not to be denied.  Writers wracked their brains to find ways, however roundabout, to break the taboos.  This period saw the rise of so-called scar literature, personal accounts of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution.  My own career didn’t really start until the early 1980s, when Chinese literature had already undergone significant changes.  Few forbidden topics remained, and many Western writers were introduced into the country, creating a frenzy of Chinese imitations. (Shifu, p. xv)

Wondering why the Chinese are silent about abortion specifically, Nie (2005) asserts:

Creative writers enjoy greater freedom of speech in China today than scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and literary works often constitute the best window into the concerns and opinions of ordinary people on many social issues.  While a medical humanities scholar may fail to find an outlet for an article that argues that abortion is ethically wrong, a fiction writer may sometimes be able to express a similar opinion without falling afoul of the authorities.  (pp. 29-30)

In fact, the apparent Chinese silence on abortion seems to negotiate two principles which Nie isolates: first that “guarding one’s tongue is a basic survival strategy in an authoritarian regime” (p. 35) and, second, that “the bitter pain of abortion for many Chinese [is] a pain that goes beyond what words can describe” (p. 36).  The latter is an eminently challenging task for writers.

          Critics, however, may have an easier time.  The dissent against abortion could be challenging for literary critics to evaluate, embedded as it is in works which still struggle to stay within the cultural and mostly political norms attendant on literary production within the PRC.  As deconstructionists have demonstrated, the meaning of what appears to be absent itself is commentary and can be excavated; it thus remains the task of the critic to determine what is being said about abortion in the literary works available.  Of all the literary theories that could help to make certain Chinese works more meaningful to Western readers, especially on the controversial topic of abortion, reception theory will seem the most obvious as the works themselves are reviewed below.  Formalist and feminist concerns in the literature can be developed, historical themes abound (certainly, reaction against the excesses of the Cultural Revolution is still considered a viable topic for Chinese writers), and one can revel as a deconstructionist would in the word-play of certain Chinese poets.  However, one aspect of literary concern that needs to be developed is the interaction and juxtaposition of official pronouncements on abortion in the PRC and writers’ responses to those pronouncements.  Two works exemplify these contentions.

The Poem “Abortion” (1986) by Zhen Zhang

          Poetry in the PRC may be on the forefront of a revolutionary trend that Western scholars are commenting on with greater frequency.  Crespi (2009) comments on developments of modern poetry in the PRC post-Cultural Revolution:

[O]fficially sanctioned Mao-era poetry recitation, while unique in terms of the pressures placed on performers to measure up to extreme ideological standards of the times, represents just one episode in a continuing history of poetry recitation as a cultural practice.  Even as the theorists and practitioners of recitation invoked a quite modern idea of pure revolutionary passion, the concept of expression informing that invocation derived from China’s earliest poetic theory.  Moreover, examining official poetry recitation also gives the lie to the myth of a uniquely monolithic revolutionary culture, especially when one considers reciters’ own reception of these poems.  Instead of the transparency and assured purity of intent that one generally experiences when reading the era’s officially sanctioned poems in written form, reciters’ accounts of giving concrete voice to the poetry intimate a sense of self-doubt spurred by formidable ideological dilemmas—dilemmas that eventually even appear in print on the pages of poetry recitation primers. (pp. 166-167)

It is especially interesting that any deviation from the accepted script of government-acknowledged poetic production occurred in the vocal production of such poetry—vocal delivery perhaps being a freer mode than print, which could more readily affect an artist’s career.

          The poem “Abortion” by Zhen Zhang is a representative example of Chinese authors who begin to broach the topic as a way of responding to official PRC positions.  The poem has marked similarities with other post-abortion syndrome poems with which Western readers are familiar, such as Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Mother” or Lucille Clifton’s “The Lost baby poem.”  One item in the critical commentary about the poet is repeated consistently: mysteriousness.  According to Tao (2006) the “self” that Zhang writes “is spontaneous, capricious, sometimes mysterious [; she] remains very much herself as a woman in her creation of mysterious urban worlds [and is credited with] a type of metropolitan women’s writing in which the self remains mysteriously private” (p. 23).

          This mysteriousness could obscure the resistance implied in the poem by one key term: “I looked long into my uterus at your unwarranted being” (p. 132).  That the child should have been called “unwarranted” and not “unwanted” or “undesired” suggests a deeper conflict at work in an otherwise straightforward poem manifesting the trauma of post-abortion syndrome.  Moreover, what is absent from the poem is especially telling.  Nowhere can an allusion be found to the abortion as having been essential to the survival of the nation, an idea found  in other texts which suggest abortion as a “remedial measure” (the standard euphemism used to refer to abortion) meant to guard against excessive population growth.  Instead, the narrator speaks of how the unborn child’s “brothers and sisters will all be informed / that you are the oldest son” (p. 132), a futuristic claim that the one-child policy does not apply in her case.

The Short Story “Explosions” (1985) by Mo Yan

          “Explosions” by Mo Yan is perhaps the clearest literary work on abortion to be considered which responds to official PRC positions.  The narrative concerns a man in the Chinese armed forces whose wife is illicitly pregnant with a second child.  Against the wishes of his father, the husband forces his wife to abort the child.  This simple reduction of a fifty-page short story ignores several elements that illustrate the conflict between official pronouncements on the forced abortion policy and implementation of that policy and its effects on ordinary Chinese.

          The story is notable for containing three “official” references to abortion as a population control measure.  The first and second references are announced early in the story and then halfway through the narrative.  The first reference occurs when, questioned by his father regarding why his wife must abort, the narrator refers to official orthodoxy:

Think I wouldn’t like to have a son?  But I already have a daughter; I’ve already been issued a one-child certificate.  As a government cadre, I have to take the lead in responding to the nation’s call.  How can I avoid it?  (p. 3).

The rhetorical question is unanswered.  The second reference is even smaller in terms of words.  Trying to reason with his wife, the narrator says, “Just think, there are a billion people in China.  If everyone has two children, what’s going to happen to China?” (p. 24).  This rhetorical question, too, is unanswered.

          The third reference, however, invites more commentary.  In the abortion clinic’s waiting room, the narrator reaches in a drawer for a book that a nurse had consulted and recounts:

In my tense gropings, my hand bumps into Obstetrics; Obstetrics bumps into my hand.  I can’t wait to open it.  It smells of iodine and hand cream.  Nurse An has made red and blue marks to highlight the black lines of text and has scribbled notes in the white margins.  The obstetrics expert writes: Knowledgeable people world-wide have expressed grave concern over the rapid growth of population.  The accelerated pace of population growth has already seriously destabilized the planet.  Humanity is heading for a devastating outcome: a population explosion ….  Nurse An notes: How I envy you, Liu Xiaoqing!  The obstetrics expert writes: Induced abortion is an effective measure in the thorough implementation of birth control policy.  We must rid the masses of women of their horror of it.  At the same time we must recognize that abortion is not minor surgery.  Neither the one performing it nor the one undergoing it should take abortion lightly.  Nurse An notes: Zorro is a great guy.  Anna is a fine girl.  I’ve got to …  (pp. 51-52; ellipses in original)

          This passage contains several elements worthy of attention vis-à-vis literary responses to the PRC policies regarding forced abortion.  The first item which is immediately noticeable is the use of the palindrome in the first sentence, a literary figure of speech that had not been used heretofore in the story and which is thus obvious on first reading.  The suddenness alerts the reader that the passage is significant.

          The Western reader may not realize the importance of the use of the title of the obstetrics book; in the United States publication by the United States Government Printing Office is restricted to official federal documents, whereas all publication in the PRC is controlled by the state.  Instead of identifying the source for the “information” which follows as the government of the PRC, the author chose to represent the government by the title of a volume officially sanctioned by the government.  Thus, the use of synecdoche becomes especially important as a safe, politically-correct instrument of reaction to the PRC policies.

          Moreover, the “obstetrics expert” is significantly anonymous, in contrast to the interpolation, twice, of a clearly identified human being, Nurse An, whose commentary after each of the expert opinions has nothing to do whatsoever with the official statements.  Nurse An’s comments certainly interject comic relief into an otherwise serious situation.  The anonymous obstetrics author proclaims in a  stand-alone sentence that “Neither the one performing it [abortion] nor the one undergoing it should take abortion lightly.”  One wonders whether the admonition to maintain sobriety in the performance of abortion extends to the literary performance as well, which, in this case, has obviously been abrogated by not one, but two instances of humor.

          Finally, the absence of quotation marks throughout the story (which does not impede determining who is speaking) does have an ancillary effect in this passage.  The ostensibly objective claim by the obstetrics expert about a “population explosion” (bolstered by an ambiguous source called “knowledgeable people world-wide”) is as unsubstantiated as the claim that “Induced abortion is an effective measure in the thorough implementation of birth control policy.”  The lack of an identifiable source of these bold claims reduces them to mere slogans, a linguistic artifact with which many Communist Chinese are familiar.  Nurse An’s claims, in contrast, are much more personal and subjective.  The reader would tend to believe the nurse’s claims for several reasons: they are “revolutionary,” having been written in the margins of a politically-correct medical textbook; they are personalized, containing the high human emotions of envy and love; lastly, they are inviting in the sense that a reader could identify either with Liu Xiaoqing, a popular film star, or with Zorro, a swashbuckling hero.  One could not easily identify with the impersonal claims of an official textbook when one is offered identifiable humans instead.

          Perhaps the reticence to target official PRC material and sources indicates that the liberty of thought which Chinese authors strive for is still emergent.  Even Mo, who asserted so forcefully in a 2001 anthology of his short stories that contemporary Chinese writers aim “to break the taboos” (Shifu, p. xv) of the Mao era, finds it difficult to challenge state orthodoxy directly.  In “Abandoned Child,” a short story written in the mid-1980s which concerns infanticide more than abortion, the narrator, who saves a newborn girl abandoned in a field, relates a near apology for government ineptitude:

The period after Liberation, owing to improvements in living standards and hygiene, saw a significant drop in the occurrences of abandoned children.  But the numbers began to rise again in the 1980s when the situation grew very complicated.  First, there were no boys at all.  On the surface, it appeared that some parents were forced into acts of inhumanity by rigid family planning restrictions.  But upon closer examination, I realized that the traditional preference for boys over girls was the real culprit.  I knew I couldn’t be overly critical of parents in this new era, and I also knew that if I were a peasant, I might well be one of those fathers who abandoned his child.  (Shifu, p. 172)

          Three matters in this passage are worthy of attention.  First, “infanticide,” the deliberate abandonment of a newborn child with the intent to have the child die, is euphemistically called an “act of inhumanity.”  Second, the revolutionary fervor of the Mao era seems to have held everything in place, for it was “after Liberation” that “living standards and hygiene” improved; however, it is significant that “the situation grew very complicated” a decade safely removed from the Mao era (“in the 1980s”).  Finally, responsibility for the intended infanticide rests neither with the government nor provincial family planning cadres notorious for overzealousness in forcing abortion on peasants; the “real culprits” are not even the parents, but the “traditional preference for boys over girls.”

Future Research and Questions

          What is striking is that, unlike American literature, no full-length novel or film devoted to the issue of abortion is available for study—“available” in that either it has not been written, has been written but is censored and will need to wait for a more open political environment, or will not be written because mainland Chinese do not yet see abortion as a literary topic worth their consideration.  Similarly, no full-length drama has been discovered that can merit study as an example of abortion discussed in that genre.  The dearth of abortion narratives may change, however, when Chinese women find their “voice” to express their feelings and thoughts about their abortions.  Western readers are familiar with the empowerment that women experienced during the twentieth century feminist movement when women could speak freely about their marriages, their employment, and—most importantly—their sexual dissatisfaction and past abortions.  Voicing such concerns led to important developments for American women.  Thus, Mosher’s A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy (1993) could qualify as a narrative on the forced abortion policy within the feminist tradition.  The Chinese women who either aborted or performed abortions who responded to Nie’s sociological surveys may become freer to express their feelings and thoughts on abortion in longer literary works—such thoughts and feelings still trapped behind the phrase “so bitter that no words can describe it” (p. 135).

          While many questions remain and must be relegated to future research, two can be offered here in closing.  First, where is the samizdat, the underground literature, from Chinese women on the issue of abortion?  Exploring such literature may help Westerners to appreciate these women’s experiences and to share in their suffering.  Second, how will the West respond to narratives depicting the Chinese forced-abortion situation?  One hopes that, besides responding to the extremely poignant situations of women living in the harshest of totalitarian regimes, Western critics and readers will act to alleviate their suffering.

References

Aird, J. S. (1982, June). Population studies and population policy in China. Population and Development Review, 8(2), 267-297.

Aird, J. S. (1990). Slaughter of the innocents: Coercive birth control in China. Washington, DC: AEI Press.

Brooks, G. (2000). The Mother. Literature for Composition: Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. (5th ed.). Eds. Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto, William E. Cain, and Marcia Stubbs. New York: Longman.

Canaves, S. (2009, July 30). China’s 13 Million Annual Abortions Flagged as a Cause of Concern. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2009/07/30/chinas-13-million-annual-abortions-flagged-as-a-cause-for-concern

Clifton, L. (1987). The Lost baby poem. Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969‑1980. Brockport, NY: BOA Editions.

Crespi, J. A. (2009). Voices in Revolution: Poetry and the Auditory Imagination in Modern China. Honolulu, HI: U of Hawaii P.

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America. (2006, June 6). Abortion law amendment to be abolished.” Retrieved from http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/xw/t260068.htm

Ertelt, S. (2010, February 5). Report: China’s One-Child, Pro-Abortion Policy Creating Nation of Bachelors. Retrieved from http://www.lifenews.com/int1432.html

Mo, Y. (1991). Explosions and Other Stories. Ed. and trans. Janice Wickeri. Hong Kong: Chinese U of Hong Kong.

Mo, Y. (2001). Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh. Trans. Howard Goldblatt. New York: Arcade.

Mosher, S. W. (1993). A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Nie, J.-B. (2005). Behind the Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Tao, N. (2006). Introduction: The Changing Self.” Eight Contemporary Chinese Poets. Sydney: Wild Peony.

Zhang, Z. (1993). Abortion. Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry. Ed. Tony Barnstone. Hanover, NH: U P of New England.

Categories
Papers

Abortion in the African American Community: Sociological Data and Literary Examples

          As any English professor would, I have used several major works by African-American authors in the sixteen years that I have taught and facilitated courses for a variety of colleges and universities.  While discussing multicultural works is now standard practice in academia, my particular research interest has always been how the right-to-life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are portrayed in American literature. Combining these two statements has resulted in the following admittedly brief paper which I presented before the Fourth Annual Annie T. Thornton Women’s Leadership Conference held at the University of Dayton on 5 March 2005.  Hopefully, this exploration of how African-American literature considers abortion will be interesting, especially when we first investigate what sociological studies have to say about the extremely high abortion rate among African-American mothers.

Sociological Data on African-American Abortions

          That the abortion rate for African-American women is significantly higher than the rates for other ethnic groups is clear.  Over the years 1972-2000, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, the rate of abortions for white mothers in 1972 was 11.8 per 1000, increasing to the highest rate in 1980 and 1981 of 24.3 per 1000.  Since then the rate has dropped so that it was 15 per 1000 in 2000.  For African-American and “other” mothers, however (the Statistical Abstract labels the category “Black and other”), the rate was 21.7 per 1000 in 1972. It swelled to 49.3 per 1000 in 1975, a few years after 1973 when abortion was legalized throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy by the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions.  The rate peaked in 1977 at 59 per 1000.  Although it has dropped since then, the abortion rate for African-American and “other” mothers was 45.7 per 1000 as of 2000.  These figures corroborate the popular perception–“popular” in the sense that it is an axiom of common knowledge in contemporary society–that the abortion rate for African-American mothers being three times that of white mothers is highly probable.  The trend is further illustrated in a companion table in the Statistical Abstract covering abortion data from 1990 to 2000.  The number of abortions performed on white mothers dropped from 1,039,000 to 733,000 while the number of abortions for “black and other” mothers increased from 570,000 to 580,000.

          These statistics are not new.  In his 1987 monograph Aborted Women: Silent No More David C. Reardon writes that “More than two-thirds of all abortions are done on white women.  But the remaining one-third which are performed on non-white women is a comparatively high figure, since non-whites constitute only about 13 percent of the total American population” (5-6).  Of course, though, this was said before the most recent census showed that Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group in the United States. Radha Jagannathan, a researcher who studied surveys of 1,236 welfare mothers who requested abortions in New Jersey in 1995, discovered that “White women reported about 71% of their actual abortions, whereas Black women reported only 24% of their actual abortions” (1827).  If this statistic can be extrapolated throughout the country, then the African-American abortion rate is substantially higher than is commonly known.

          Janet L. Andrews and Joyceen S. Boyle record the familiar statistic–“currently the abortion rate for African American women is more than three times the rate of abortion for European American women” (430)–and cite research conducted in 2002 by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the largest abortion provider in the nation, Planned Parenthood.  The National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund succinctly supplies abortion figures for both the African-American and Hispanic ethnic groups.  In a flyer titled “Abortion’s Impact on Minorities” the group notes that 263,911 abortions were performed in 2000 on Hispanic-American women, who “represented 12.8% of the U.S. population of women of child-bearing age” but “accounted for 20.1% of all abortions performed that year”.  Similarly, 416,218 abortions were performed in 2000 on African-American women, who “represented 13.7% of the U.S. population of women of child-bearing age” but “accounted for 31.7% of all abortions performed that year”.  The group cites the census Bureau and the Alan Guttmacher Institute as sources for these race-based statistics.

          Research from 2000 published by Scott Boggess and Carolyn Bradner suggest that it is not only the mothers themselves who have increasingly chosen abortion.  Apparently, African-American adolescent males are running counter to a national trend.  The researchers discovered that

                    young males in 1995 were significantly less likely than their 1988 counterparts to approve of abortion [in seven circumstances which constitute their surveys….]  By 1995, however, black males appeared to be slightly more accepting of abortion in most circumstances than either whites or Hispanics, with racial and ethnic differences tending to be larger if the abortion was for a social reason as opposed to a health reason. (120-1)

          Current primary research data since 2000 suggests the same. Andrews and Boyle obtained some significant data and opinions about abortion for their 2002 research from African-American adolescents who chose abortion at an Atlanta abortion clinic.  Although they admit that the survey sample had drawbacks (the survey population involved twelve aborting mothers in one city [430]), the researchers came to several important conclusions, encapsulated in their language that “this study helped to dispel [… the] persuasive myths about African American adolescents and pregnancy” (430).

          The first myth is that African-American adolescents “continue their unplanned pregnancies and raise the children from those pregnancies with their mothers’ or their grandmothers’ help”.  Andrews and Boyle euphemistically counter that “African American women may choose not to become mothers because they want to pursue an education and economic independence” (430).  The researchers discuss a second “controlling image […] that young women suffer psychological damage as a result of elective abortion (431).  Unfortunately, the researchers conducted second and third interviews of the aborted women “6 and 8 months after the elective abortion” (414).  It would be no surprise then, that the researchers report that “relief was the most common reaction at the second and third interviews” (431).  Reardon and others have contributed significant research about Post-Abortion Syndrome, suggesting that severe psychological problems may occur years after the abortion.

          The third and final controlling image which the researchers dispel is that African-American mothers base their abortion decisions “on what their partners want them to do” (431).  In contrast, they say, the African-American mothers aborted because they found abortion to be a vehicle for asserting “their own fertility” and that “their decisions for abortion and continuing the relationship with their partners in conception were separate albeit related” (431).  What affect does their research have on abortion policy for African-American mothers?  Andrews and Boyle conclude that “unplanned pregnancy and elective abortion can be a positive, growth-enhancing experience for African American adolescent women” (432).

          Primary research has much to say about why African-American mothers abort, and secondary research data has similarly documented and commented on this phenomenon over the past forty years.  We are fortunate that in this metropolitan area we have special interest groups which are exploring the phenomenon of the high African-American abortion rate and are seeking to educate the pubic about causes of the problem and opportunities to solve it.  For example, Dayton Right to Life has collated seminal research on this matter in its effort to educate the public on the threat of Planned Parenthood abortion efforts in the African-American community.  Dayton Right to Life’s research was conducted in collaboration with another research institution at the University of Dayton (The Center for Business and Economic Research) in collaboration with two other agencies.  Here are some conclusions which my audience found either worthy of comment or shocking:

                    [While] African Americans appear to be somewhat more pro-life than the population as a whole, the Dayton Right to Life […] study found that opinions on abortion (whether pro or con) tend to be very “soft” and easily shifted [….]  For some African Americans, the right to an abortion is viewed in the broader context of a “civil right” as opposed to a “personal right” [….]  Abortion is viewed by many African Americans as a “white problem”–particularly among men [….]  The Black Church has grown very silent on the abortion issue.  In one long-term study, we found that in the 1970’s, church attendance was cited as a primary determinant of a pro-life position.  By the 1990’s, this factor had virtually disappeared. (“Abortion Attitudes”)  [1]

          Researching this problem has primarily been the province of special interest groups and abortion activists.  For example, the correlation of abortion and slavery had been made earlier by Jack Willke in his 1984 monograph Abortion and Slavery: History Repeats.  However, recent holocaust studies scholars have argued that the persistence of abortion as a solution for untimely pregnancies in the African-American community may be attributed to pre-emancipation attitudes.  William Brennan cogently argues in his 1995 monograph Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives that African-American slaves during the nineteenth century in the United States were dehumanized in a variety of “work animal” metaphors (95).  “Removal of individuals from membership in the human community and re-classifying them as animals,” Brennan further suggests, “has the effect of consigning them to a lower level of existence where their victimization can be more easily rationalized” (89).

          Whether this history tendency forms the basis of current African-American thinking on abortion or not, the African-American community is becoming more supportive of abortion.  In 1993 research Janice Westlund Bryan and Florence Wallach Freed were able to claim that “Blacks and Hispanics [were] more anti-abortion than Caucasians….” (1-2).  By 2002, when they offered their research on attitudes toward abortion covering the period 1977 through 1996, Jennifer Strickler and Nicholas L. Danigelis were able to state that from 1987 onward “blacks [were] more approving of abortion than [were] whites” (197).  Moreover,

                    An examination of change […] between the first and last time periods [1977-80 and 1993-96 respectively] reveals [that] the change in race effect is statistically significant […], showing that blacks become more approving of abortion than do whites during this time period [….]  Perhaps most striking is the change in the black-white differences.  By the mid-1990s, black adults had become more supportive of legal abortion than their white counterparts, after controlling for other factors.  This pattern is consistent with other research that found the racial gap in abortion attitudes to narrow during the 1970s and 1980s. (197, 198-9)

Literary Examples of African Americans and Abortion

          What do literary examples say about the abortion experience in the African-American community?  More importantly for this brief study of African-American literature which concerns abortion, what literary evidence is there which may either support or oppose the findings of the sociological data?

          Abortion is a relatively new theme in African-American literature.  Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1945 poem “The Mother” is perhaps the first poetic literary evidence of post-abortion syndrome.  Several lines of the poem, if weaved together, constitute the complaint of the aborted mother.  “Abortions will not let you forget / [….] I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children / [….] Believe me, I loved you all. / Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you / All” (430)–all of these lines form a narrative that shows the anguish of the African-American mother who has chosen to abort.

          James Baldwin offers two works, one of which specifically mentions abortion and the other suggests the philosophical ground for the negative approach toward life.  In his 1952 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain Baldwin offers an interesting speculation: would Gabriel have wanted Elizabeth, his second wife, to have aborted her illegitimate child John (143-4)?  Secondly, in The Fire Next Time (1963) Baldwin declares that African Americans were taught that they were not worthy of life.

          Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun is the first major literary work to suggest abortion as a solution to an untimely pregnancy.  The word “abortion” is never mentioned explicitly, but the audience is aware that Ruth is seeking an abortionist.  Hansberry makes that clear when she has Mama explicitly state what this important subplot of the drama is about.  In Act II, scene i, Mama exclaims,

                    “I–I just seen my family falling apart today…just falling to pieces in front of my eyes….  We couldn’t of gone on like we was today.  We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards–talking ’bout killing babies and wishing each other was dead…” (80)

What is more important in Hansberry’s drama is an explicit assertion which has escaped critics’ notice vis-à-vis abortion.  When she confronts Walter with the possibility that Ruth will have an abortion, Mama is quite clear in her definition of the African-American race as a life-affirming people in Act I, scene iii:

                    “Your wife say she going to destroy your child.  And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him [his deceased father, Big Walter] and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them–  [She rises]  I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one…” (62)

          There are many works from 1959 to my next example which mention abortion, but I deem these as tangential for purposes of this paper.  I proceed to a 1978 novel which manifests important aspects of the abortion mentality operating in the African-American community in the post-Roe era.  Rosa Guy’s 1978 first-person novel Edith Jackson presents events in the life of the seventeen-year-old main character almost as a counter to the hopeful elements of Hansberry’s drama.  Where the Younger family leaves the ghetto in 1959 with hope that they are on their way to achieving the American dream, by 1978 the hope as incarnated in Edith Jackson has vanished.  Although she lives in fulfillment of A Raisin in the Sun (16), Edith’s circumstances show a world for an African-American young woman devoid of the comforts of the earlier 1959 Younger family.  Unlike Travis, who had his mother to rely on, Edith’s mother died from tuberculosis.  Unlike Travis who had his father present, Edith’s father abandoned the family. Unlike Beneatha whose goals include college, Edith plans to quit school.  Edith has been sexually assaulted by a minister.  She becomes pregnant by a thirty-two-year-old man.  At this point, what options are available to her?  A social worker character had earlier informed the reader that the “luxury of choices” is denied to black children (103-4).  Her friends tell her she should abort, and so, given the beliefs in her society, Edith decides to abort.  [2]

          Herbert C. Casteel’s 1990 novel The Drums of Moloch may be didactic fiction, but it is interesting because of its iconoclastic elements.  Bob Hill is an African-American Democratic Missouri state senator whose “voting record tends to veer more and more toward the liberal side” (25).  He has the opportunity to advance his political career, but one item of his political beliefs interferes with national party operatives: he is pro-life.  Hill could advance if he would only vote against an informed consent bill before the Missouri legislature, but he refuses.  Hill eventually wins the congressional seat towards which Democratic operatives encouraged him, but only after he switched to the Republican Party and made his pro-life views known to voters.

          Robert Clark’s 1997 novel In the Deep Midwinter is interesting for one almost casual comment.  The main action concerns the plight of Anna whose abortion in 1949 affects her for the rest of her life (even at age eighty she remembers the abortion).  When she is taken to the hospital after her illegal abortion, the narrator reports that Mrs. Clay, an African-American caretaker, says she had “seen it before.  With colored girls, at least” (180).  The implication is that African-American women who abort not only have vast experience in the practice, but also can teach white mothers how to undergo abortion.

          Another 1997 example of more recent fiction concerned with abortion includes Mary Burnett Smith’s novel Miss Ophelia.  Set in an African-American community in Macon County, Virginia in 1948, eleven-year-old Belly befriends Teeny who is pregnant.  The girls know that most mothers “get rid of it” (27), and various characters have abortions for various reasons.  The novel’s main character, Miss Ophelia Love, becomes pregnant, but, unlike others in the community who resort to abortion as a solution to their imagined or real socioeconomic problems, Miss Ophelia gives birth to the baby.  The end of this novel runs counter to much late twentieth-century fiction: a conversation which starts out as moral relativism ends in moral certainty (215-6), Belly loves the baby (247-8), and another character asserts that “a good mother is a wonderful thing, especially for a child” (276).  This maxim, which may sound flaccid and self-evident at first reading, could be rejected by many feminist critics today because it restricts the freedom of the African-American mother in a torturous bond of patriarchal control.  Unfortunately for the feminist critics, Miss Ophelia Love has exercised her freedom of choice and chosen to give life to her child.

Disturbing Evidence: White Racist Attitudes Toward African Americans and Abortion

          While reexamining the literature for this paper, one feature of the literary examples is disturbing: the attitudes toward African-American pregnancy in the white community.

          Norma Rosen’s 1982 novel At the Center presents us with an abortionist, Edgar Bianky, who has one consistent fear: a mother whom he will abort would one day cause trouble for his abortion clinic.  He performs an abortion on Alexandra White, an African-American mother.  (Why is she named that?  Is this supposed to be a pun?).  Immediately, Edgar pictures her as the “Genevieve X” who would one day cause trouble for his clinic (214-7).  Earlier in the novel, a conversation that a black mother has with her lover receives significant attention (163-4).

          John Irving’s 1985 novel The Cider House Rules is primarily concerned with abortion, even though the film adaptation makes it seem as though the subject and themes concern orphans, one’s place in life, and rules by which people live.  What precipitates the “hero” character, Homer Wells, into his lifelong career as an abortionist is the predicament of Rose Rose, the daughter of a dictatorial African-American father who not only keeps his fellow apple pickers in line but also rapes his daughter.

          Naomi Ragen’s 1994 novel The Sacrifice of Tamar depicts the anguish of an Orthodox Jewish woman who has been raped by a black man.  She carries her pregnancy to term, and the fear that the child would be born as one of color is avoided.  However, when that child in turn marries another Jewish white woman, becomes a father, and his child is born black, the racial fears resurface and almost tear the family apart.

          Finally, Stephen Dixon’s Gould: a Novel in Two Novels involves the exploits of Gould Bookbinder, whose sexual exploits crosses racial boundaries.  When Gould impregnates his black lover, she wants an abortion (34).  In fact, helping Lynette with obtaining an abortion “was certainly the more than decent thing to do” (40).

Literary Criticism and African-American Abortion

          Discussion among humanities scholars of the African-American abortion rate may not necessarily be within their province, but certainly reviewing the evidence of abortion attitudes in the literature should be, and some scholars have dared to approach the subject.  Some literary critics are quite clear about the effect of abortion on African-American mothers.  In her now famous 1986 essay “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion” Barbara Johnson writes that “the world that has created conditions under which the loss of a baby becomes desirable must be resisted, not joined.  For a black woman, the loss of a baby can always be perceived as a complicity with genocide” (36).  What Johnson says is not new–for pro-lifers, at least.  Abortion as a tool for Black genocide is a claim that Erma Clardy Craven first enunciated in her seminal 1972 essay whose main title is “Abortion, Poverty and Black Genocide”.

          Interestingly, what I have found is that some critics are hesitant to mention abortion at all as a subject of inquiry in African-American literature.  For example, while he comments on Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun as an endorsement of “patriarchy not at the expense of female strength or female governance [since] Manhood in A Raisin in the Sun is wholly compatible with feminism” (779), Anthony Barthelemy chooses not to reflect on the decision about abortion made in the drama.  Similarly, Darlene Clark Hine, editor of the 1993 monograph Black Women in America: an Historical Encyclopedia, argues that “Indeed, a revisionist reading of [Hansberry’s] major plays reveals that she was a feminist long before the women’s movement surfaced” (528).  If this is true, then, since she specifically eliminated abortion as a solution to Ruth’s untimely pregnancy, Hansberry would be philosophically closer to Feminists for Life than she would be to other feminist organizations.  [3]

          Unfortunately, some literary critics do not help the discussion of abortion in African-American literature when they offer to academics or the reading public works which can be classified into two categories: the merely distorted or the polemical.  In her 1990 work Abortion, Choice, and Contemporary Fiction: The Armageddon of the Maternal Instinct Judith Wilt offers her unique perception of the “right-to-life issues of the 1950s and 1960s: save the Rosenbergs, ban the bomb, feed the black children of Mississippi.  And give life to women dying from botched abortions” (92).  The phrase “right-to-life issues” as used here is anachronistic since it is customarily associated with the three issues which concerned the pro-life movement since the mid-1960s: abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

          To illustrate the second category, I suggest that Carol Mason’s 2000 article is more polemical than an examination of cultural differences.  The title alone (“Cracked Babies and the Partial Birth of a Nation: Millennialism and Fetal Citizenship”) is freighted with distortions of key terms used in the pro-life movement.  “Cracked babies” is an almost horrible attempt at punning; I find nothing humorous about children born to crack-addicted mothers.  The “partial birth of a nation” is a clever way to deflect attention from the gruesome practice of third trimester abortions much perfected by an abortionist of note in the Dayton metropolitan area.

          Furthermore, Mason’s claim that abortion can be considered a social good for two groups can be easily countered by historical evidence.  She argues that whites consider abortion as a social good because “‘crack babies’, who are explicitly presumed to be black, are routinely portrayed as impure, tainted, and polluted babies who are a liability to society and from whom the tax-paying citizenry should be saved”.  Secondly, she claims that “legal disputes [on abortion] may be seen as unwittingly reinscribing the racialist tenets of far-right groups that consider abortion to be the apocalyptic end times of white America” (35).  Refuting the racist charges requires another paper, but noting the work of volunteers and paid staff in pregnancy support groups as they assist mothers with untimely pregnancies–many of whom are African American–should suffice.

Four Questions for Future Research

          How do I end this conference paper?  Last week I ran several searches in the MLA International Bibliography database, an online compendium of research since 1963 by humanities professors on substantial issues and works of literature.  For this paper I consulted the database to determine current scholarship on the issue of abortion in African-American literature.  The first search I entered was just the word “abortion”, which resulted in 121 hits.  I then searched for instances of “African American”, which yielded 7,206 hits, and “black”, which totaled 10,784 hits. I then combined search results.  “Abortion” and “black” produced zero hits.  “Abortion” and “African American” yielded one result–a paper titled “`We a People Who Give Children Life’: Pedagogic Concerns of the Aborted Abortion in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun” which was presented before the National Association of African American Studies and the National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies at its annual conference in Houston in 1997.

          I remember Houston in February 1997.  It was a lovely city and hot, despite the downpour that greeted us as our plane landed.  While I should feel proud that the only combined literary research on the issue of abortion involved my study of Hansberry’s drama, I think that we can all agree that being able to cite a dated work may be unacceptable for today’s students.  Where are the other researchers who are considering the right-to-life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia in African-American literature?

          The literature is there.  While conducting research for a paper on poetry on the life issues, several works were found in African-American full-text literature databases.  Similarly, I have written on abortion in rap music.  The songs that I focused on, which were composed and performed by African-American rappers, all condemn abortion as a practice because it either resulted in the dissolution of the relationship between lovers or contributed to the genocide of the African-American race (“Abortion and Rap Music”).

          If the corpus of scholarly interest in this topic is so scant, then there is great opportunity for literature professors and students to investigate deeper into the sociological phenomenon which provoked this paper and the literary evidence which gives the sociological data a human face.  I offer the following four questions for students to explore in their future research.

          First, why is there such silence regarding abortion as a theme in African-American literature?

          Second, is Baldwin correct when he writes that blacks were taught that they weren’t worthy of life and does this philosophical base drive the high abortion figures?

          Third, why do African-American mothers, when faced with untimely pregnancies, presume that abortion is the preferred solution?

          Finally, where is the literature–the stories, the poems, the dramas–which show how pregnancy support groups such as Birthright or the Women’s Network (in Clark County) have helped vast numbers of African Americans?  Susan K. Ridley’s 2002 work Relieved but Deceived is one contribution which expresses the anguish that abortion causes in the African-American community.  Where are the others?

          It is my greatest hope that, perhaps in ten years if not sooner, we will study life-affirming works as much as we now study Baldwin, Brooks, or Hansberry.

                                                     Works Cited

Andrews, Janet L. and Joyceen S. Boyle. “African American

          Adolescents’ Experiences with Unplanned Pregnancy and

          Elective Abortion.” Health Care for Women International 24

          (2003): 414-33.

Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. New York: Dial, 1963.

—. Go Tell It on the Mountain. 1952. New York: Modern Library,

          1995.

Barthelemy, Anthony. “Mother, Sister, Wife: A Dramatic

          Perspective.” The Southern Review 21 (summer 1985): 770‑789.

Boggess, Scott and Carolyn Bradner. “Trends in Adolescent Males’

          Abortion Attitudes, 1988-1995: Differences by Race and

          Ethnicity.” Family Planning Perspectives 32.3 (May/June

          2000): 118-23.

Brennan, William. Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games

          Take Lives. Chicago: Loyola UP, 1995.

Brooks, Gwendolyn. “The Mother.” Literature for Composition:

          Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 5th ed. Eds. Sylvan

          Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto, William E. Cain, and

          Marcia Stubbs. New York: Longman, 2000. 430.

Bryan, Janice Westlund, and Florence Wallach Freed. “Abortion

          Research: Attitudes, Sexual Behavior, and Problems in a

          Community College Population.” Journal of Youth and

          Adolescence 22.1 (Feb. 1993): 1‑22.

Casteel, Herbert C. The Drums of Moloch. Joplin, MO: College

          Press, 1990.

Clark, Robert. In the Deep Midwinter. New York: Picador, 1997.

Craven, Erma Clardy. “Abortion, Poverty and Black Genocide: Gifts

          to the Poor?” Abortion and Social Justice. Eds. Thomas W.

          Hilgers and Dennis J. Horan. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1972.

          231-43.

Dayton Right to Life. “Abortion Attitudes in the African American

          Community: Key Findings of a Study Conducted by Dayton Right

          to Life in Dayton, Ohio.” [n.p.]: Dayton Right to Life,

          [n.d.].

Dixon, Stephen. Gould: a Novel in Two Novels. New York: Henry

          Holt, 1997.

Guy, Rosa. Edith Jackson. New York: Viking, 1978.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun: a Drama in Three Acts.

          New York: Random, 1959.

Hine, Darlene Clark, ed.. Black Women in America: an Historical

          Encyclopedia. Brooklyn: Carlson, 1993.

Irving, John. The Cider House Rules. Toronto: Bantam, 1985.

Jagannathan, Radha. “Relying on Surveys to Understand Abortion

          Behavior: Some Cautionary Evidence.” American Journal of

          Pubic Health 91.11 (Nov. 2001): 1825-31.

Johnson, Barbara. “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion.”

          Diacritics: A Review of Contemporary Criticism 16:1 (1986):

          29‑47.

Koloze, Jeff. “Abortion and Rap Music: a Literary Study of the

          Lyrics of Representative Rap Songs.” Life and Learning XIII:

          Proceedings of the Thirteenth University Faculty for Life

          Conference at Georgetown University 2003. Washington, DC:

          University Faculty for Life, 2004. 103-18.

—. “Adolescent Fiction on Abortion: Developing a

          Paradigm and Pedagogic Responses from Literature Spanning

          Three Decades.” Life and Learning IX: Proceedings of the

          Ninth University Faculty for Life Conference. Ed. Joseph W.

          Koterski. Washington, DC: University Faculty for Life, 2000.

          347‑384.

—. “…’We a People Who Give Children Life'”: Pedagogic

          Concerns of the Aborted Abortion in Lorraine Hansberry’s A

          Raisin in the Sun.” Lifeissues.net. 7 December 2003

          <http://lifeissues.net/writers/

          kol/kol_08raisininthesun.html>.

Mason, Carol. “Cracked Babies and the Partial Birth of a Nation:

          Millennialism and Fetal Citizenship.” Cultural Studies 14.1

          (2000): 35-60.

National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund. “Abortion’s Impact

          on Minorities.” [Washington, DC: n.d.].

Reardon, David C. Aborted Women: Silent No More. Westchester, IL:

          Crossway Books, 1987.

Ridley, Susan K. Relieved but Deceived. Blacklick, OH: Susan J.

          Ridley, 2002.

Rosen, Norma. At the Center. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

Smith, Mary Burnett. Miss Ophelia. New York: William Morrow,

          1997.

Statistical Abstract of the United States. 4 Mar. 2005

          <http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/04statab/vitstat.pdf>.

Strickler, Jennifer and Nicholas L. Danigelis. “Changing

          Frameworks in Attitudes Toward Abortion.” Sociological Forum

          17.2 (June 2002): 187-201.

Willke, J. C. Abortion and Slavery: History Repeats. Cincinnati:

          Hayes, 1984.

Wilt, Judith. Abortion, Choice, and Contemporary Fiction: The

          Armageddon of the Maternal Instinct. Chicago: U of Chicago

          P, 1990.

                                                 Works Consulted

Cohn, Rachel. Gingerbread. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for

          Young Readers, 2002.

Dayton Right to Life. The Question: What Is the Leading Cause of

          Death in the African American Community? Dayton: Dayton

          Right to Life, [2002].

Dryer, Bernard V. The Torch Bearers. New York: Simon and

          Schuster, 1967.

Emecheta, Buchi. Kehinde. African Writers Ser. Oxford: Heinemann,

          1994.

Evans, John H. “Polarization in Abortion Attitudes in U.S.

          Religious Traditions, 1972-1998.” Sociological Forum 17.3

          (Sept. 2002): 397-422.

Furlow, Akua, and Thomas Strahan. “African‑Americans and Induced

          Abortion.” Lifeissues.net. 2000‑2002. 30 May 2003

          <http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/air/

          air_vol6no1_19931.html>.

Gallagher, Maria. “New Film Shows How Abortion Hurts Black

          Women.” Lifenews.com. 25 Mar. 2004. 29 Mar. 2004

          <http://www.lifenews.com/nat401.html>.

Gifford, Barry. Night People. New York: Grove P, 1992.

Hentoff, Nat. “Pro Choice Bigots.” 30 November 1992. 27 December

          2000 <http://www.ocf.org/ca3/ProChoiceBigots.html>.

Hilgers, Thomas W., and Dennis J. Horan, eds. Abortion and Social

          Justice. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1972.

Holmes, Marcelle Christian. “Reconsidering a ‘Woman’s Issue:’

          Psychotherapy and One Man’s Postabortion Experiences.”

          American Journal of Psychotherapy 58.1 (2004): 103-15.

Johnson, Allan A., M. Nabil El-Khorazaty, Barbara J. Hatcher,

          Barbara K. Wingrove, Renee Milligan, Cynthia Harris, and

          Leslie Richards. “Determinants of Late Prenatal Care

          Initiation by African American Women in Washington, DC.”

          Maternal and Child Health Journal 7.2 (June 2003): 103-14.

Keyssar, Helene. “Rites and Responsibilities.” Feminine Focus:

          the New Women Playwrights. Ed. Enoch Brater. New York:

          Oxford UP, 1989. 226-240.

Lott, Bret. Jewel. New York: Washington Square P, 1991.

Pernick, Martin S. The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of

          “Defective” Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures

          Since 1915. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.

Ragen, Naomi. The Sacrifice of Tamar. New York: Crown, 1994.

Tindall, Gillian. The Youngest. London: Secker & Warburg, 1967.


    [1]  Andrews and Boyle provide another example of racist attitudes towards adoption.  African-American mothers may choose abortion over adoption because they view it as a “white” practice (431).

    [2]  The example of Edith Jackson’s experience with abortion runs counter to a paradigm that I formulated when I reviewed many similar abortion novels directed toward an adolescent and young adult reading audience in other research.  In “Adolescent Fiction on Abortion: Developing a Paradigm and Pedagogic Responses from Literature Spanning Three Decades”, I considered how white teenaged and young adult mothers considered many more choices besides abortion.  I found that, towards the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, the decision to abort was neither the first choice of white mothers nor the ultimate resolution of the problem posed in these novels.  My comments on this fiction can be found either in the hardcopy of the conference proceedings or on the web at http://uffl.org/vol%209/koloze9.pdf.

    [3]  I have written on the matter of critical reception of the abortion theme in Hansberry’s drama elsewhere.  I presented a paper titled “`We a People Who Give Children Life’: Pedagogic Concerns of the Aborted Abortion in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun” before the National Association of African American Studies and the National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies at its annual conference in 1997.  The full text can be located either in conference proceedings or at <http://lifeissues.net/writers/kol/kol_08raisininthesun.html>.

Categories
Papers

Abortion and Rap Music: A Literary Study of the Lyrics of Representative Rap Songs

          I was first introduced to rap music by a student at Cleveland State University many years ago.  The young man gave me a cassette of a then current controversial rapper.  I found that I enjoyed the music immensely.  While I will never surrender my love for Respighi or opera, I came to understand why artists such as Eminem are popular–immensely popular–with our students.  The music is often quite catchy, and the lyrics of some songs may be the perfect antidote to the level of political correctivity which has gripped American colleges and universities.  [1].  Contemporary music sings about drugs, life in the ghetto, life in the suburbs, rebellion, and sex–the same topics that people who thought they were pioneers of a new music in the 1950s sang about, or the pioneers of the new music of the 1960s, 1970s, and now the rappers.

          When I thought about what might be suitable to present at a UFL conference, I thought that, instead of the “usual” literary analysis paper, I would investigate how rap music addresses abortion, keeping two purposes in mind.  First, faculty (most of whom are at least two decades beyond the ages of their students) should know something about the contemporary music that our students listen to, if not for a positive evaluation of the music, then at least merely for the sake of knowledge.  Second, more germane to our purposes, although it may be viewed by consensus as an art form of significant rebellion against social mores, when it concerns abortion, I argue that rap music espouses traditional pro-life positions.  It may be too radical a claim to assert that, if today’s young people are much more pro-life than past generations, rap music contributed to this generational growth towards pro-life viewpoints.  However, the question which I will research here is interesting: if rap is so violent, so demeaning, so vulgar, so profane, so unorthodox, so hedonistic, so indicative of a culture’s collapse, then why is it that any right-to-lifer would feel comfortable singing its lyrics on abortion?

          My initial research showed that abortion is, while not a major theme in rap music, at least a significant topic.  Problems in my methodology arose immediately.  Locating songs which deal with abortion involved some rather difficult and time-consuming searches of various databases and internet search engines.  It helped, too, to ask those people who knew most about my subject: my students.  Class discussion about assigned essays often falters because few students read them, but, when I casually mentioned in discussion with some students that I was working on a literary analysis of rap lyrics, suggestions flowed freely.  After compiling a list of songs which seemed most important for review, my next step was to obtain library copies of cassettes and cds as quickly as possible so that I could either purchase the copies myself or be knowledgeable about what I noted in the delivery of the lyrics.

          One other matter must be addressed since it helped the methodology of this presentation.  This year’s paper developed from a workshop that I presented at last year’s conference, when I offered preliminary comments on the lyrics.  I was fortunate that I had an entire session to present my research.  Thus, I had freedom to play certain excerpts from songs so that the audience would hear the dissonant rhythm and the complex rhyme patterns which are constituent features of rap music.  I printed out the lyrics for some of the songs from reputable internet sites so that the audience could follow along as the artist performed the segment of his or her song.  Instead of merely reading results of my own research, I thought that I would conduct the workshop as a class, playing certain excerpts and then asking the attendees what they thought about the songs or the lyrics.

          There is a good and a bad effect to the way that last year’s workshop was conducted.  Unfortunately, the participatory style of the workshop prohibited us from discussing all of the songs that I wished to cover.  We simply ran out of time.  However, what seemed unfortunate was really fortunate, for the conversation among the attendees was so engaged and perceptive that I was reluctant to end the discussion to move on to another sample lyric.  Thus, while I had prepared ten songs for consideration, we were able only to listen to and discuss three songs in the hour and fifteen minutes allotted.

One song that we did not have time to consider which will be evaluated here is “Abortion” by Doug E. Fresh, released in 1986.  The first song that we had time to review last year, “Retrospect for Life”, released by Common in 1997, engaged attendees with its style and its message.  I was impressed with the intense discussion which followed.  The second song that we had time for (and even that had to be truncated) was the 2001 song “Real Killer” by Tech N9ne.  These three songs are the bases of the present discussion.

What were the results of our discussion?  What literary commentary could I make about the various songs concerning abortion?  What conclusions can be reached about rap music and its concern with abortion?  This year, I intend to critique the above-mentioned songs from a more detailed right-to-life perspective.  I will proceed chronologically, presuming that the message of one song will construct a composite view of rap’s treatment on abortion.

Definition of “Rap”

          Before discussing the three songs, a definition of “rap music” will be helpful for the dual purpose of being able to identify songs which fit into the category and excluding many other songs which, while they may concern abortion, cannot be classified as rap.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines “rap” as “a style of popular music (developed by New York Blacks in the 1970s) in which words ([usually] improvised) are spoken rhythmically and often in rhyming sentences over an instrumental backing” (“Rap”). Elsewhere, in the online version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, rap is defined as “the competitive use of rhyming lines spoken over an ever-more-challenging rhythmic base” (”What Is Rock?”).

          Thus, following these definitions, several noteworthy songs which concern abortion have been excluded from this study.  “Bodies” by the Sex Pistols, an early abortion song released in 1977, is appropriately tempestuous (to illustrate how wild the mental state can become when abortion disturbs one’s psyche) but can be classified more as hard rock instead of rap.  In 1989 Nikki D released “Daddy’s Little Girl”, a song which suggests that the mother who aborted can rely only on her father after her abortion. Even though this song “was the first [by a] female rapper to rhyme about abortion, from a young woman’s perspective” (Marable), “Daddy’s Little Girl” has a much slower tempo and thus would not qualify as rap.  In 1990 DC Talk released “Children Can Live (Without It)” which has a traditional rock structure and beat.  The self-evident “Abortion Is Murder”, released in 1994 by P.O.D. (an acronym for Payable on Death), can be classified more as metal or punk instead of rap.  Perhaps the only connection that this song has to rap is the presentation of the lyrics, which are not so much sung as they are shouted.   Two songs released in 1997–“Brick” by Ben Folds Five and “In America” by Creed–are excluded for a couple of reasons.  Although it is not as slow in tempo as “Daddy’s Little Girl”, “Brick” is a traditional rock song whose lyrics are clearly understandable and not as complex as those in rap songs.  “In America” must be excluded, even though it criticizes abortion as national policy, since it carries a more traditional rock structure and beat.  [2]

A final aspect prominent in the definition of rap must be clarified.  Lexicographers and music critics have much to say about rap as a political tool for powerless groups in society:

                   Rap had a long history in African-American culture;

however, it came to musical prominence as part of the

hip-hop movement.  Public Enemy used new digital

technology to sample (use excerpts from other

recordings) and recast the urban soundscape from the

perspective of African-American youth.  This was music

that was at once sharply attuned to local political

conditions and resonant internationally.  By the

mid-1990s rap had become an expressive medium for

minority social groups around the world. (“What Is

Rock?”)

Thus, from its beginnings, rap has always been controversial, if only because it is the expression of views opposed to the dominant culture.  Since the dominant culture supports abortion, rap would thus be a natural vehicle for the controversy of abortion.

Furthermore, I find it interesting what music critics do not say about rap and its political purpose.  In 1991 Michael Eric Dyson summarized rap’s approach to women in purely traditional feminist literary critical terms.  For Dyson,

          The constant references to women as “skeezers,”

          “bitches,” and “ho’s” only reinforces [sic] the

          perverted     expression of male dominance and patriarchy

          and reasserts the coerced inferiority and

          objectification of women as sexual “things” exclusively

          intended for male pleasure. (21)

As recently as August 2000, an online article in Billboard discusses the political activism of the “new hip-hop generation”, but the activism that is discussed is not abortion, but other social concerns.

                   Inspired as much by today’s headlines and community

                   issues as by their own philosophies of life, a new wave

                   of artists is taking hip-hop to another level with

                   expressive, message-filled rhymes laced over inventive

                   beats that entertain and inform–without preaching.  At

                   the forefront of this new beat generation are Capitol’s

                   Dilated Peoples and Interscope’s Jurassic 5, who join

                   Mos Def, Common, Black Eyed Peas, dead prez, Channel

                   Live, and Reflection Eternal among the ranks of

                   activist hip-hop Acts….  “I feel I’ve helped open

                   people’s eyes to another brand of music that isn’t all

                   about ice, cars, and how many women you’ve fucked,”

                   says Common.  “And that brand is about love, being

                   creative, expressing yourself, and individual

                   responsibility.” (Mitchell et al.)

Another artist, Speech (from Arrested Development), states that the group sings “about the realities of life from a different perspective: about children without fathers, about 16-year-old single mothers feeling trapped” (Mitchell et al.).  A list of organizations at the end of this article identifies the concerns of modern rappers: programs designed “to teach teens how to react if they’re detained by the police,” efforts to preserve “culture and education”, AIDS awareness, and voter registration (Mitchell et al.).

Anne O’Connell’s 2003 online article “A Feminist Approach to Female Rap Music” is especially interesting in that it does not say that abortion constitutes part of the feminist agenda.  O’Connell does, however, point out what female rappers do accomplish:

                   Through the use of powerful lyrics, these artists use

language and images which allow women to lessen their

sexual insecurities and inhibitions.  Following their

predecessors of women’s blues, female rappers have

released their desires instead of repressing them,

denying themselves to be victimized.  Through the use

of lyrics and style, female rap musicians have given

all women, especially African-American women, a strong

sense of self identity and empowerment.

The article says nothing about abortion as a means of self-identity or empowerment.  In fact, it does not even mention the word “abortion” at all.  [3]

1986: “Abortion” by Doug E. Fresh

          Released in 1986 on the album Oh, My God!, “Abortion” is a song by Doug E. Fresh, an artist from the older generation of rap artists.  In the world of rap, 1986 is ancient history since many artists and different styles have already contributed to the field. One critical review by Ernest Hardy uses this song as a justification for the hasty claim that “a lot of hip hop’s political text is unyieldingly conservative” (qtd. in Phipps).

          The song begins and ends with a “Rock a Bye, Baby” lullaby as though it were a children’s rhyme played on a music box; a crying baby attends the music.  The rap element quickly manifests itself, however, as the artist runs through a series of themes that will become more prominent in other subsequent rap songs.  The persona speaks about abortion as a “distortion” and that the “world’s morals are out of proportion”.  [4]  Abortion, called “so sad”, is specifically identified as “killing newborn babies”.  A final theme is abortion’s effect on population growth; specifically, the persona sings that with abortion the “whole population starts to fall”.

1997: “Retrospect for Life” by Common

          The performer known as Common released this song on the One Day It’ll All Make Sense album in 1997.  Summarized as “the mental struggle of a male dealing with the possibility of abortion to resolve problems” (Smoke), “Retrospect for Life” includes Lauryn Hill doing refrain and backup vocals.  While the refrain is sung in a casual, slower beat, almost ballad style, the intervening stanzas come closer to the ideal of the manner in which lyrics in rap should be performed.  More importantly, in terms of dominant theme, instead of merely singing about the pregnancy of his girlfriend, the persona connects the abortion decision with the wider social background of African-American genocide.  The persona is keenly aware that, if the mother of his unborn child has an abortion, she will contribute to the further depopulation of the African-American race.

          Before listening to the song, one should be aware of the following points that might involve a pro-life interpretation or perspective on the song.  In the opening monologue, which contains the barest of piano accompaniment and which begins with what sounds like the heartbeat of an unborn child, the persona appeals to the listener directly, pleading that “we gotta start respectin life more y’all” and that “we losin too many of ours” (Common).  [5] This idea of abortion as a means of reducing the population is enhanced here; it is not so much important to note that abortion merely reduces the population as much as it is important to sing that abortion reduces the population of African Americans.

          In the first stanza the persona directly addresses the unborn child, calling him or her “you” and, later, the definitively gendered “my son”.  After the first chorus, in the second stanza the “you” being addressed is no longer the unborn child, but the mother herself.  Significantly, the child is relegated to the pronoun “it”, even though he is also called “our child” and “this boy”.  Towards the end of this second stanza the persona, still addressing the mother, encourages either himself, or her, or the both of them (the language is unclear) to abandon “the beadies and let’s have this boy”.  [6]  This last appeal is particularly striking because it is obvious (or so it seems) that the unborn child has already been aborted.  Some verb tenses used throughout the first stanza are definitely past; the persona “wasn’t prepared mentally nor financially” to be a father, and he “wanted” the child “to be raised within a family”.  However, some statements in this first stanza are present tense: the persona says that “she [the mother] and I agree” that they could not afford a child and that he “don’t wanna, go through the drama of havin a baby’s momma” (even though this last clause can be construed as a future statement).  It is only in the last stanza, however, that the death of the child is definitive: “though his death was at our greed, with no one else to blame”.

The chorus, sung by Lauryn Hill between the first and second stanzas, is a refrain repeated twice, and the rhythm of the song is maintained.  After the second stanza, however, between the repeated refrains, the beat skips.  As a missed beat in the scansion of poetry may suggest that something may be wrong in a poem, so too the missed beat here may indicate that there is something wrong with the idea presented in the song.

The conclusion of the song contains more dialogue, this time not from the persona himself, but, apparently, from a father whose voice on the “hotel messaging center” indicates that he urgently desires to “kick Jesse Jackson’s ass”.  Why this violent act?  Is it an act of protest against a representative of African-American leadership, which is dominantly anti-life?

          The matter of genocide of the African-American race is a theme which activists in the pro-life movement have been sounding for years.  As early as 1972 in her now famous essay “Abortion, Poverty and Genocide: Gifts to the Poor?”, (which should be one of the foundation documents of early right-to-life literature) Erma Clardy Craven documented the genocide intent not only of family planning but also abortion programs targeting the African-American community.  After summarizing the conditions of African Americans at that time, Craven, writing “as a Black, Protestant social worker of thirty-four years experience in the rat-infested ghettos of the United States”, affirms that “the deliberate killing of Black babies in abortion is genocide–perhaps the most overt form of all” (233).  Two decades later Akua Furlow and Thomas Strahan extensively compiled research data on abortions in the African-American community in their report, “African-Americans and Induced Abortion”.

          More current research shows that racial discrimination against African Americans in the form of abortion remains.  Dayton Right to Life recently collated research on abortion and the African-American community.  Research from the past decade shows that Craven’s original call to stop the genocide intent of abortion programs in African-American communities has not been heeded.  Dayton Right to Life summarizes 1992 research, stating that “abortion services have been deliberately and systematically targeted towards African Americans.  A disproportionate number of the nation’s abortion clinics are located in minority neighborhoods”.  Citing the Center for Disease Control’s Abortion Surveillance Report for 1999, Dayton Right to Life further shows that “35% of abortions in the United States are performed on African American women while they represent only 12% of the female population of the country” (“The Question” [3]).  [7]  Common’s song reinforces a theme that contemporary research has long documented: abortion should be a primary concern of the African-American community, since it affects the survival of an entire race.

2001: “Real Killer” by Tech N9ne

“Real Killer” was released on the 2001 album AngHellic by Tech N9ne, who is billed as “rap’s first anarchist” (“Tech N9ne’s”).  According to his website, Tech N9ne wrote the song “Real Killer” for an apparently cathartic purpose.  “‘Real Killer’…unflinchingly bares all about his personal experiences with abortion” (“Tech N9ne’s”).  The opening verse summarizes the persona’s sexual activity with the mother of his child who is called “this chick”.  Later, in verse two, the persona has another sexual liaison with “this chicklet” who becomes the mother first of his triplets and then of another child.  With both mothers the persona arranges abortions for all five unborn children.

          If one follows the printed version of the lyrics, the words cascade over each other, leaving little room for significant pauses.  Moreover, if the lyrics are considered as mere free verse poetry, several terms from standard poetic discussion can be used to evaluate the text.  The many instances of feminine rhyme (for example, “I sitted” and “we quit it”) throw the rhyme scheme off considerably, especially as the lines are sung in the manner, as enunciated in the Encyclopaedia Britannica definition of rap, as “the competitive use of rhyming lines spoken over an ever-more-challenging rhythmic base” (”What Is Rock?”).  The song rushes through 621 predominantly monosyllabic words in the space of six and a half minutes.  In fact, of the 621 words in the song, only nine are polysyllabic, and even those nine are all trisyllabic.  The preponderance of monosyllabic words has two functions: first, the possibilities for numerous spondees abound; second, a corollary of the first, the high number of spondees makes the singing of the lyrics heavy and, in this case particularly, harsh.

More interesting from the viewpoint of right-to-life criticism are the negative connotations of these nine trisyllabic words.  “Abortion”, “murderer”, and “scandalous” are all obviously negative.  The other terms (“agreement”, “evidence”, “natural”, “nobody”, “probably”, and “proportion”) are negative when the surrounding terms clarify that they are used to comment on the abortions in the song.  The persona indicates that the first abortion should be performed secretly; with “no evidence”, the persona and the mother are “both…in agreement” over having an abortion.  The persona affirms “that [there] ain’t nobody iller” than he is for persuading the mothers of his children to abort.  The term “proportion” is used only when the persona states that abortion is “blown out of proportion” (an idea that Doug E. Fresh promoted earlier in his 1986 song).  The word “probably” is used when the persona reflects on what two other beings, the unborn child and God, are thinking.  “Probably” is used first when the persona considers that the unborn child, the “baby”, was “probably thinking we [the mother and he were] scandalous” in going to Kansas for an abortion.  It is used again when the persona considers that he knows “God/ Probably thinking/ I should die”.

The chorus is direct in its conclusion whose apposition defines the persona.  He is a “real killer”, and, if there is any confusion about this direct, simple-structured sentence, then the following equation should eliminate any confusion: “that is me”.  Moreover, two other appositions reinforce the guilt that the persona feels.  After identifying himself as a “real killer”, the persona is called not only a “mass murderer” but also a “natural born killer”.  What is interesting is that it is obvious that the persona himself did not perform the abortions, and yet he feels responsible for the killings.  Even more important is the slippery slope slide into immorality, progressing from passivity to another’s request to compliance to more direct action, which indicates that a level of force was used on the mother in the last abortion.  In the first case the mother telephones the persona requesting help in obtaining an abortion.  For the second pregnancy (the triplets) the persona calls his abortionist friend again to arrange the abortion.  The persona even feebly chastises the abortionist, asking “Homie how could you/ Be so raw” to which the abortionist retorts “How could you be so raw” (vocal emphasis in the song).  Significantly, for the third pregnancy, the persona not only arranges, but apparently forces the mother to undergo an abortion.  “She wanted to have it”, the persona states, “But I made her do/ The same shit”.

Race, the Negativity of Abortion, and Musical Courage

          At least three conclusions can be drawn from the above discussion on abortion as a theme of rap music.  First, although there are notable exceptions, it appears that abortion is a concern of minority rappers who tend to give it more full-length treatment than white rappers.  Common, Doug E. Fresh, and Tech N9ne are all African American and have devoted significant attention to abortion in full-length songs.  In contrast, white rappers address the issue briefly.  For example, Eminem refers to abortion once in the song “Just Don’t Give a Fuck”.  Although it is unclear to whom the truncated present participles apply, the song speaks of “extortion, snortin, supporting abortion”, which could apply to Eminem himself or to his alter ego, Slim Shady.

          Second, for all its so-called rebelliousness against social norms, when it considers it at all, rap music continues to designate abortion as a negative practice.  The rappers discussed here make it clear that the use of the word “abortion” itself is always negative in connotation.  For those of us who are more literary minded, this continuation of the negative connotation of the term corresponds with how literary works (especially major fiction) produced in the United States still consider abortion, even after thirty years of nine-month legalization.

Moreover, the rappers discussed here who may be classified as expressing a pro-life viewpoint use the term with greater freedom than others who sing about abortion.  Thus, for example, Doug E. Fresh did not hesitate to title his song “Abortion”, and Tech N9ne clearly enunciates the word in his “Real Killer” song even though he could have muted the enunciation as he did other words.  Of course, other artists who may have expressed a pro-life viewpoint about abortion who work in other categories of contemporary music are equally heroic in using the word.  For example, P.O.D. makes the pro-life view clear in a song simply titled “Abortion Is Murder”.  Perhaps the exception is Creed’s use of the definition of abortion instead of the word itself.  The song “In America” states that “Only in America [do] we kill the unborn/ To make ends meet”.

Evidence can be found for the contrary position also.  Artists who express an anti-life viewpoint (that is, the song seems to present a position of support for the practice) have difficulty using the word, as though the connotative power of the term “abortion” would jeopardize their message.  (Or perhaps their revenue; after all, if today’s youth are increasingly pro-life, why would a young person spend money on a cd to support an artist who personally advocates a violation of the first civil right?)  For example, the song “Brick” by Ben Folds Five does not mention abortion, even though it is clear from the narrative that the couple goes to an abortion clinic.  The song is a musical justification of research documenting the disastrous effects that an abortion has on the continuance of a couple’s relationship.  The word “abortion” is never used.  Similarly, Nikki D’s song “Daddy’s Little Girl” concerns the love that a mother feels for her father during her abortion.  (Of course, a right-to-lifer would ask: what kind of father would not only damage his own daughter by having her undergo an abortion but also kill his own grandchild?)  As in the Ben Folds Five song, the word is never mentioned.

Finally, the third conclusion that can be drawn from the research presented here is that rap music on abortion supports the pro-life viewpoint much more than it does the anti-life one.  There is no epideictic for abortion among those who sing about it. Abortion is clearly a negative force affecting not only the composers, but also the communities and ethnic groups which they represent.  In the past decade rap has celebrated the killing of promiscuous girlfriends (Eminem’s “Kim” song) and has glorified sexuality (nothing new to the music world especially since the advent of rock).  One would think that this new category of contemporary music would have celebrated abortion as the ultimate freedom for young people–especially young women–who demand the expansion of personal freedoms.  This effort to glorify abortion as a reproductive right or as a foundation right of one version of the feminist movement simply has not occurred.  It probably never will, since, thus far, rap has established the precedent that abortion kills not only the unborn child, but also harms his or her mother and disenfranchises the father.

In rapspeak, to “dis” means “to discount or show disrespect for a person; to put someone or something down…an expression of disrespect” (Smitherman 108).  Clearly, the intent of the rappers discussed here is to attack abortion which disenfranchises the many entities which it affects.  Jesse Jackson is dissed; abortionists are dissed; those who collaborate in abortion are dissed, even at the cost of dissing oneself, as the personas who sing about their cooperation in the abortions of their children testify.  If there is one idea that can be learned from this study, it is that right-to-lifers can find a strong contemporary cultural ally in rap music; rap has dissed abortion.

Works Cited

Ben Folds Five. “Brick.” LyricsDomain.com. 2001-2003. 16 May 2003 <http://www.lyricsdomain.com/lyrics/6009>.

Common. “Retrospect for Life.” Raplyricssearch.com. 16 May 2003 <http://www.raplyricssearch.com/Songs/0,1388.aspx>.

Craven, Erma Clardy. “Abortion, Poverty and Black Genocide: Gifts to the Poor?” Abortion and Social Justice. Eds. Thomas W. Hilgers and Dennis J. Horan. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1972. 231-43.

Creed. “In America.” Lyricsstyle.com. 1997. 14 May 2003 <http://www.lyricsstyle.com/c/creed/inamerica.html>.

Dayton Right to Life. “Abortion Attitudes in the African American Community: Key Findings of a Study Conducted by Dayton Right to Life in Dayton, Ohio.” [n.p.]: Dayton Right to Life, [n.d.].

—. The Question: What Is the Leading Cause of Death in the African American Community? Dayton: Dayton Right to Life, [2002].

DC Talk. “Children Can Live (Without It).” Lyrics.jp. 16 May 2003 <http://www.lyrics.jp/lyrics/D003400010012.asp>.

Dyson, Michael Eric. “Performance, Protest, and Prophecy in the Culture of Hip-Hop.” Black Sacred Music: a Journal of Theomusicology 5.1 (spring 1991): 12-24.

Eminem. “Just Don’t Give a Fuck.” Lyricsstyle.com. 16 May 2003 <http://www.lyricssrtyle.com/e/eminem/ justdontgiveafuck.html>.

—. “Kim.” Lyricsstyle.com. 16 May 2003 <http://www.lyricssearch.com/e/eminem/kim.html>.

Fresh, Doug E. & the Get Fresh Crew. Oh My God! OldSchoolHipHop.com. 16 May 2003 <http://www.oldschoolhiphop.com/records/ohmygod.htm>.

Furlow, Akua, and Thomas Strahan. “African-Americans and Induced Abortion.” Lifeissues.net. 2000-2002. 30 May 2003 <http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/air/air_vol6no1_19931.html>.

Kid Rock. “Abortion.” The History of Rock. New York: Atlantic, 2000.

Marable, Manning. “The Politics of Hip Hop.” 2002. 14 May 2003 <http://www.urbanthinktank.org/politicshiphop.cfm>.

Mitchell, Gail, Rashaun Hall, Marci Kenon, Jill Pesselnick, and Ray Waddell. “New Hip-Hop Generation Returns to Activism.” Billboard 112.33 (12 Aug. 2000). Academic Search Premier 16 May 2003 <http://web20.epnet.com/citation.asp>.

Mosher, Mike. “Bodies: Sex Pistols and Abortion Art.” Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life 55 (May 2001). 14 May 2003 http://eserver.org/bs/55/mosher.html.

—. “The Motor City Is Blanching: White Rap Gets Paid.” Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life 56 (summer 2001). 14 May 2003 http://eserver.org/bs/56/mosher.html.

Nikki D. “Daddy’s Little Girl.”  Daddy’s Little Girl. New York: DefJam, 1991.

O’Connell, Anne. “A Feminist Approach to Female Rap Music.” 14 May 2003 <http://rap.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.csc.vsc.edu%2FCom.web%2Ffemalerap.Html>.

Phipps, Keith. Rev. of Chuck D Presents: Louder Than a Bomb. TheOnionAVClub.com. 16 May 2003 <http://www.theonionavclub.com/reviews/music/music_v/variousartists14.html>.

P.O.D. “Abortion Is Murder.” Warriors4Jah.com. 16 May 2003 <http://www.warriors4jah.com/song_files/murder.asp>.

“Rap.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. 5 May 2003 <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi>.

Sex Pistols. “Bodies.” 14 May 2003 <http://www.purelyrics.com/index.php?lyrics=pqsswlao>.

Smitherman, Geneva. Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Smoke. “Nothing Ordinary.” Rev. of One Day It’ll All Make Sense. Music-Critic.com. 14 May 2003 <http://www.music-critic.com/urban/common_oneday.htm>.

Tech N9ne. “Real Killer.” Therealtechn9ne.com. 16 May 2003 <http://www.therealtechn9ne.com/Pages/Frameset.html>.

—. “Tech N9ne’s AngHellic Will Be to Rap….” Therealtechn9ne.com. 16 May 2003 <http://www.therealtechn9ne.com/Pages/BioBottm.html>.

United States. Office of National DrugControl Policy. Pulse Check: National Trends in Drug Abuse, Spring 1996; Trends in Drug Use, Part III; Marijuana. 4 Mar. 2002. 12 May 2003 <http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/drugfact/pulsechk/spring96/p_6smar.html>.

“What Is Rock?  The Difficulty of Definition.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 5 May 2003 <http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?eu=65609>.


[1] One online commentator, Mike Mosher, asserts that rap is youth’s reaction against such political correctivity.  Mosher quotes “Conservative writer John Leo [who] gloated that Eminem’s popularity was evidence of youth’s backlash against tightly monitored school behavior codes, zero-tolerance Hate Speech laws and other manifestations of repressive ‘political correctness’” (“Motor City”).  Mosher does not refute Leo’s assertion.

[2] Sometimes, of course, a song obviously titled “Abortion” may concern abortion only tangentially.  This is the case with Kid Rock’s 2000 song “Abortion”.  The song contains only the vaguest of references to abortion as a practice; rather, the song uses abortion as a metaphor for the angst of a man tortured by love.

[3] Similarly, even though he argues that “’Bodies’ remains the most important song to deal with abortion, a major political issue of the 1970s when it was written,” as recently as 2001 social critic Mike Mosher expresses his frustration in trying to find not necessarily rap abortion songs, but abortion songs in general:

                        There appears to be little progressive, feminist art on

this topic in wide currency, perhaps because abortion

is necessary rather than celebratory.  Many women have

spoken of variegated, deep feelings after abortion, its

procedures altering a significant biological course,

and to articulate these, perhaps cathartic art forms

are best.  If two decades after “Bodies,” Liz Phair,

Hole, or L7 had abortion songs as powerful as “Bodies”, I simply don’t know about them. (“Bodies”)

[4] Unfortunately, no reputable source could be located to provide quotes for this song’s lyrics.

[5] For this and subsequent songs, the lyrics were transcribed by another person and uploaded on one of numerous internet lyrics services, so deviations in grammar and punctuation may not have been those suggested by the artist.  Moreover, unless otherwise indicated, lyrics for the songs have been obtained from the source indicated at the first quotation.

[6] According to a recent online publication from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a “beadie” is

                        Marijuana…used both alone and in combination with a

                        number of other drugs–most commonly alcohol, and in

                        some areas, crack or PCP.  In New York, a variety of

                        Indian marijuana laced with PCP (“beadies”) has gained

                        popularity.  Both crack and PCP may be sprinkled on

                        marijuana; a marijuana cigarette or cigar may also be

                        dipped in a liquid solution of PCP, dried and then

                        smoked. (United States)

[7] The reader may also be interested in a summary of research findings from a study conducted by the organization.  Titled, “Abortion Attitudes in the African American Community: Key Findings of a Study Conducted by Dayton Right to Life in Dayton, Ohio”, two findings mention the influence of Planned Parenthood specifically: “Planned Parenthood is well known and generally regarded very favorably.  Interestingly, the only negative mentioned about Planned Parenthood was that they [sic] tended to push women into abortions” (unpaginated).

Categories
Papers

Academic Perceptions of Abortion: a Review of Humanities Scholarship Produced Within the Academy

          What do my colleagues in humanities say when they write about the right-to-life issues?  This was the question I posed for research to be presented at this year’s annual conference of University Faculty for Life.  Hopefully, within the following pages the answers I provide will prove satisfactory.  Here is my perspective on the “state of the scholarship”–at least in humanities–on right-to-life issues.

          The methodology for this year’s paper was simple.  I wanted to focus on recent humanities scholarship dealing with the three right-to-life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.  A few items from recent scholarship came to my attention from a variety of sources (such as email lists from pro-life groups in Canada and the United States).  However, virtually all of the monographs published since 2000 which I thought would pertain to the life issues were advertised in recent issues of Publications of the Modern Language Association, the official publication of the premiere organization which concerns itself with scholarship in the humanities.

          The clause “which I thought would pertain to the life issues” indicates that, sometimes, I was led to “dead ends”.  Thanks to the immediacy of email, I could obtain responses from the various scholars to ascertain whether their works concern abortion.  For example, I thought that Generation and Degeneration: Tropes of Reproduction in Literature and History from Antiquity Through Early Modern Europe, a 2001 monograph edited by Valeria Finucci and Kevin Brownlee, would certainly concern abortion.  Finucci emailed to say that “it does not, although there are a few references”.  Similarly, I thought that Laura Frost’s 2002 monograph Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism would definitely concern abortion, but Frost emailed to say that “My book doesn’t address right‑to‑life issues or any related reproductive issues. I focus on fantasy and sexuality/eroticism in literature”.  Tamar Katz also responded by email to say that her 2000 monograph, Impressionist Subjects: Gender, Interiority, and Modernist Fiction in England, “doesn’t discuss abortion”.  Nancy J. Peterson’s 2001 monograph, Against Amnesia: Contemporary Women Writers and the Crises of Historical Memory, “discusses history, not abortion.”  Michelle Lise Tarter confirmed that the 2001 monograph which she edited with Janet Moore Lindman, A Centre of Wonders: the Body in Early America, does not concern abortion at all.  “I don’t think that any of the essays actually approaches this topic of abortion”, she notes.  “There is one essay on Elizabeth Emerson (Hannah Duston’s sister), but the issue of abortion is not actually discussed.”  Finally, Elizabeth A. Wheeler replied that her 2001 monograph, Uncontained: Urban Fiction in Postwar America, also does not concern abortion.

           Perhaps the problem in identifying abortion passages in current scholarship is one of indexing.  For example, in her 2001 monograph, Genders, Races, and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry, 1908-1934, Rachel Blau DuPlessis does “treat one poem by Mina Loy that in passing mentions abortion.  It is not indexed in the book.  The chapter concerns representations of sexual intercourse in literature, and is entitled ‘”Seismic Orgasm”: sexual intercourse, its modern representations and politics'”.  [1]

          Thanks to the Ohiolink interlibrary loan system which includes virtually all of the libraries of public and private colleges and universities in Ohio, I was able to obtain many of the titles I wanted to review.  Having obtained these, I quickly determined that the focus of scholarship on the life issues was restricted to the first life issue, abortion.

          My critique of some scholarship will primarily concern the absence of discussion of the right-to-life issues in areas where, in my estimation, the scholarship should have addressed the issues or would have been more comprehensive if the right-to-life issues were addressed.  Towards the end of my research, I decided that I would contact the authors themselves, asking them questions about their presentation of material–or lack thereof–on the right-to-life issues.  Finally, I will demonstrate whether ideas from the recent scholarship can be used to help students as they study a representative passage of contemporary literature.

          When I reviewed the draft of this paper, the idea came to me that what I would present can be classified into three facetious categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The “good” section will consider recent scholarship which is not hostile to right-to-life interests or persons, but which presents material which right-to-lifers can use in the classroom to support claims made since the founding of the movement.  The “bad” section discusses recent scholarship whose hostility to right-to-life interests is obvious.  The “ugly” section consists of the application of some ideas from recent scholarship to that representative passage of contemporary literature I referred to in the previous paragraph. I do not mean to say that Juliana Baggott’s poem “Seventy Degrees in December” is ugly.  Au contraire, I contend that the application of some ideas from recent scholarship itself creates an ugly interpretation of literature.

Review of Selected Humanities Literature

          Although academic discussion of the international effects of the first right-to-life issue of abortion is rare in recent literature, [2] academics delving into the experience of the United States have much to say.  Paradoxically, some academics have contributed to the abortion “discussion” by what they have omitted as much as by what they have written about the subject.

          Nancy Bauer’s 2001 monograph Simone de Beauvoir, Philosophy, & Feminism continues recent scholarship which strives to enlighten the ideas of one of the most important women in the twentieth century.  Bauer provides extensive footnote commentary on Beauvoir’s attitude toward children and abortion.  After documenting Beauvoir’s commitment to abortion, Bauer writes,

                    Beauvoir was notorious for her own horror of having and caring for babies.  But in interviews, especially toward the end of her life, she was at pains to insist that her own lack of desire to have children did not play a role in her admonishing women to consider carefully the possibility of opting out of motherhood. Tellingly enough, Beauvoir warned that, given the demands placed on mothers in our culture, having children frequently constituted for women a form of slavery.  When asked, for example, by Yolanda Patterson in 1985 what advice she would give to women who wanted both to have children and to “maintain their own identity and independence”, Beauvoir said, “One must really follow one’s deepest desires.  Otherwise one feels unfulfilled….  But one should be very careful not to become enslaved.”  And in an interview (one in a famous series) with Alice Schwarzer in 1976 she said, “I think a woman should be on her guard against the trap of motherhood and marriage.  Even if she would dearly like to have children, she ought to think seriously about the conditions under which she would have to bring them up, because being a mother these days is real slavery.” (274; ellipsis in original)

In this respect, Bauer is continuing the research by Germain Kopaczynski, documenting the emergence of abortion in Beauvoir’s work and how that importance may have been based on faulty readings of Catholic ethical positions.  [3]

          While Beauvoir was writing in France, in the United States a new label was given to those writers who were reacting against the tenets of postwar American life: the Beat generation.  Most of the major writers of the Beat generation are associated with the culture of the 1950s.  Many pro-lifers may associate the Beat generation with support for abortion as well, thinking that any reaction against middle-class American values from the 1950s would obviously include abortion.  Since this decade is often cited as the one that Beat writers in the 1950s and 1960s reacted against, one would expect to find some support for the overthrow of the right to life among Beat writers.  Ann Charters’ 2001 monograph Beat Down to Your Soul: What Was the Beat Generation? is fascinating because it does not establish this connection between an admittedly radical group of writers and an attack on the first civil right to life.

          One chapter, especially, is noteworthy for what it does not say about abortion, as Charters herself confirms in an email response that “abortion isn’t addressed in” the monograph.  Titled “Panel Discussion with Women Writers of the Beat Generation”, Charters leads discussion with “a panel of so-called Beat chicks”, women who were involved in the Beat movement not only as writers themselves, but as spouses or lovers of male Beat writers such as William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac.  Although she credits Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as “the most influential book in radicalizing American women readers” (612), Charters claims that

                    We women wanted marriage too.  Our sexual freedom came at a high price in the 1950s, when most men respected a woman only if she was somebody’s wife….  Although we were in rebellion against what we considered our second-class status in American society, we still respected marriage.  Ironically, at the time we thought it was the final proof of our independence.  A wedding ring was a visible sign to an uncaring world that we weren’t immature or irresponsible or unstable, that we had accomplished something of value on our own. (613)

          In the interview itself, other panelists speak only of feminism and liberation in vague terms.  For example, Joyce Johnson suggests how radically different the Beat chicks were from their 1960s second-wave feminist sisters:

                    In the late fifties, it was an enormous thing for a young woman who wasn’t married to leave home, support herself, have her own apartment, have a sex life.  This was before the pill, when having sex was like Russian roulette, really.  It wasn’t the moment then to try to transform relationships with men.  Just to get your foot out the door into the world as an independent person was just such an enormous thing. (629; emphasis in original)

According to Johnson, Jack Kerouac “had a horror of the idea of bringing life into the world because he had seen a child die, that child being his brother” (630-1).  That is the closest one comes to finding a passage that can be construed in any way as being anti-child.  The final panelist whom I will mention, Joanna McClure, further stated that “I didn’t join the women’s movement, but I did my personal part in creating freedom for myself” (630).

          Sara M. Evans’ essay “Sources of the Second Wave: the Rebirth of Feminism”, published in the 2001 monograph Long Time Gone: Sixties America Then and Now, has a much more activist section titled “Making the Personal Political”.  While it is common knowledge that “consciousness-raising groups were seedbeds for what grew into diverse movements around issues ranging from women’s health, child care, violence, and pornography to spirituality and music” (201), Evans exemplifies this connection between such feminist groups and abortion:

                    As groups analyzed childhood experiences for clues to the origins of women’s oppression in relations with men, marriage, motherhood, and sex, discussion led to action, and action on one topic led to another.  For example, in an early meeting of New York Radical Women, several women described their experiences with illegal abortions.  For most it was the first time they had told anyone beyond a close friend or two.  The power of this revelation, however, contrasted sharply with the current debates surrounding proposed liberalization of the abortion law in New York, which were conducted with clinical detachment. (201-2)

          The one paragraph in her essay solely devoted to abortion is worth closer examination.  After discussing the disruptions of legislative activity on abortion, Evans writes that

                    With this and numerous other actions and demonstrations women’s liberation groups made themselves the “shock troops” of abortion rights, joining an already active abortion law reform movement.  For the most part, they sought to intervene directly, offering services, public education, and assistance to women rather than lobbying for reform.  In Chicago, a group within the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union called “Jane”, which began doing counseling and referrals in the late 1960s, shifted in 1971 to performing abortions themselves.  Between 1971 and 1973, Jane performed eleven thousand illegal abortions with a safety record that matched that of doctor-performed legal abortions. (202)  [4]

          What is striking about this section is the absence of discussion about the growth of pro-life alternatives during this same period.  Birthright and other pregnancy support groups experienced phenomenal growth in the 1960s and 1970s, in part to help meet the demands of mothers who chose to give birth instead of abortion.  [5]  Similarly, judicial and legislative efforts to retain protective measures are ignored.  [6]

          Kevin M. Crotty’s 2001 monograph Law’s Interior: Legal and Literary Constructions of the Self has several interesting points to make about legal constructs and the language of rights which will be quoted extensively.  Crotty discusses the thinking of many prominent theorists whose works impact legal thinking on abortion.  The twentieth-century philosopher John Rawls and the legal theorist, and now federal judge, Richard Posner have profoundly affected their respective disciplines.  Crotty critiques some aspects of their thinking vis-a-vis individual rights, the freedom of the individual, and abortion.  Stanley Hauerwas had already argued against the application of Rawls’ philosophy in his chapter on abortion in the 1981 monograph A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (see pages 216-7 especially).  While not expressly updating Hauerwas’ research, Crotty does elaborate two decades later some of the ideas mentioned in Hauerwas’ work.  For example, when discussing Rawls’ concept of “public reason”, Crotty suggests that, when applied to abortion,

                    instead of sealing off public debate from intractable problems, the boundaries Rawls envisions may make the debate even more bitter and divisive, for these public terms seem to predetermine the result and to silence opposing voices before the fact. (37)

It should be obvious that pro-lifers can use this line of argument to demonstrate how various levels of political correctivity–whether in the humanities, law, or other disciplines–have attempted to silence their own voices.

          Similarly, Crotty points out potential problems in Posner’s thinking which pro-lifers can use to their advantage.  Posner “develops the line adumbrated by Holmes [that “the man of the future” will be “the social engineer, not the legal expert versed in the letter of the law”], and argues that law should be a relatively unselfconscious, ‘transitive’ tool for bringing about rational outcomes” (153).  However, according to Crotty, when Posner’s argument involves abortion, recent twentieth century decisions by the Supreme Court such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and Roe v. Wade (1973) indicate that such rational development is frustrated.  Specifically, if “the normative question of women’s reproductive rights–or the connection between women’s autonomy and legislation outlawing abortion–does not play a major role in his argument” (153), then what, in Crotty’s estimation, does?

                    After Brown and Roe, any concept of rights, if it is to be really plausible, must be responsive to the physical aspect of citizens as beings with a race and gender.  By confronting the Constitution with the sexuality of its citizens, for example–a reality that had previously been obscured or marginalized in law–Roe requires considerable adjustment to the legal image of ourselves as simply rational and autonomous. It points to a more complex model that situates rationality within a personality that both promotes and undermines it.  Naturally, a vision of the human being as deeply sexual and therefore partly irrational is hardly a surprise in a post-Freudian era.  [7]  The point is that Roe made sexuality relevant to an understanding of the Constitution and the political community it structures. (192)

The implications of such a philosophy are clear for Crotty:

                    As in Brown, autonomy emerges from Roe as something partisan and contested.  The majority opinion in Roe struck down the abortion laws at issue in the name of privacy, and in the interests of keeping the government out of necessarily intimate decisions.  But preventing states from legislating against abortion did not secure state neutrality.  First, by assuring women control over their reproductive functions, Roe leveled the playing field for males and females in the public sector.  It also modified the family’s internal dynamics on the interests of securing individual autonomy: parents, for example, cannot use law to veto a minor’s decision to have an abortion.  More deeply, by holding that states could not take away from women the ability to choose, Roe made it likelier that women would be autonomous individuals able to govern their own lives rationally.  In other words, Roe did not so much respect an independently existing autonomy in woman as help to produce it, and to do so in the face of deep and pervasive social forces that resisted it. It reflects a troubling view of the Constitution as an aggressive force, bringing about the autonomy it presupposes.  Roe and Brown, then, both undermine Holmes’s vision of the Constitution as facilitating debate, but existing essentially independent of it.  The Constitution, as construed in these cases, is necessarily partisan–immersed in the political fray, and struggling to bring about its own version of the good.  (213)

          On these premises, criticism of Roe, a creation of only about three decades, is not only obvious, but also possible, if only because it is on a collision course with a millennia-old construct of the human condition: the family.  Crotty states:

                    Roe replicates in a highly sophisticated latter-day setting the conflict between state and household that drove (for example) the Oresteia, in which a legal system was based on the denial of the woman’s role in procreation.  The state stands for equality, generality, and legality, while the family embodies specificity, hierarchy, and authority.  The citizen has a certain fungibility, for (s)he is conceived abstractly–that is, apart from the concrete particulars that constitute the individual identity of the person within the household. The citizen, too, has a certain atemporal quality: young and old citizens, qua citizens, are equals.  The family, in contrast, is deeply rooted in time and change: age is a highly significant difference among its members, and the household is in a continuing process of generation, growth, and decline. (214)

Crotty concludes his criticism of Roe by saying that

                    Roe represents the culmination (at least for now) of a development in which autonomy becomes ever more problematic, and increasingly difficult to reconcile with perceptions of the individuals’ vulnerability to circumstance and his or her deeply formative relations with others, above all in the household. (217)  [8]

A practical application of Crotty’s criticism of Roe will be suggested in the “ugly” section at the end of this paper.

          There are many more minor passages which can be culled from current scholarship to assist pro-lifers in the effort to restore the first civil right to life.  For example, Claudia Roth Pierpont’s 2000 monograph Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World chastises Anais Nin for the deception with which she wrote of her abortion.

                    This abortion is shocking to read about.  The story that Nin made of it, the celebrated “Birth”, begins with the line “‘The child,’ said the doctor, ‘is dead,’ and goes on for its five brief pages to describe the agony of a woman stretched on a table, six months pregnant, too weak to push the child from her body and too tender of spirit to be fully willing to push it out, “even though it had died in me” and “even though it threatened my life”….  The story was drawn from Nin’s diary, and reappeared in elaborated but not substantially altered form…in 1966….  There were many clues in this account to what really happened, but they were easily ignored in the light of Nin’s insistent claim to truth…. The convolution of lies and editing and reediting is hard to sort out, and here, still, are the luxuriantly sentimental phrases–“regrets, long dreams of what this little girl might have been”, and “the simple human flowering denied to me because of the dream, again, the sacrifice to other forms of creation”.  This abortion was a sacrifice made to art, and to ensure “my destiny as the mistress, my life as a woman”….  In this instance, rewriting her history was probably Nin’s best deed for the feminist cause, and her most important lie.  For even in an age of hard-won and vulnerable freedoms, the truth we are offered now is recognizably obscene. (76-8)

          Anthony Cunningham’s 2001 monograph The Heart of What Matters: the Role for Literature in Moral Philosophy includes commentary on post-abortion grief without unnecessarily criticizing the validity of such a concept, as many anti-lifers have done:

                    The sense of moral diminishment associated with guilt and shame can sometimes be seen in cases where people feel justified, indeed compelled to do what they do.  For instance, studies show that a large percentage of women who choose elective abortion because of severe genetic defects or malformations in second trimester fetuses not only suffer overwhelming grief but often experience feelings of profound guilt and diminished self-esteem.  This is so despite the fact that they are convinced their course of action is best for the child and their family. (203)

Cunningham concludes his footnote source citation by saying that “Having to aim directly at ending a desired pregnancy can exact a grave toll.  [9]  Unlike other deaths, abortions usually do not attract the same communal recognition and support that mean so much in the grief process” (289).

          Finally, Susan Wells’ 2001 monograph Out of the Dead House: Nineteenth-Century Women Physicians and the Writing of Medicine can help fill out an important part of nineteenth-century abortion history.  If many historians view the effort to safeguard the right to life in the nineteenth century as a male construct, then Wells’ research refutes that premise.

                    All women physicians knew of Madame Rastell, the New York abortionist….  It had been Madame Rastell’s profanation of motherhood, in fact, that finally determined Elizabeth Blackwell to overcome her repugnance for the body and become a physician.  Early graduates of the Woman’s Medical College, writing on such topics as medical jurisprudence and criminal abortion, specified ways of determining whether abortions had been induced and ways of resisting patients’ pleas for help in obtaining one.  Rachel Gleason, a water cure physician who, with her husband, ran a popular sanitorium in New York State, told women who came to her for abortions that a woman who married was obliged to accept children as they came, and she disputed their belief in the legitimacy of abortion before “quickening”, when the fetus could be felt moving….  Gleason’s control of her patients’ reproduction was all the more effective because she offered an understanding ear to the transgressor….  Gleason’s account suggests that, while they practiced a conventional range of therapies, women physicians also understood their medical practice as support for, and regulation of, motherhood. (32-3)

          All of these excerpts from contemporary scholarship can certainly be used to advance the pro-life movement.  Now, however, I would like to move on to research which is hostile to pro-life interests.

Academic Scholarship Hostile to Right to Life

          Susan Friend Harding’s 2000 monograph The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics begins my examination of academic opposition to pro-life interests.  Commenting on the opening anecdote of Jerry Falwell’s 1986 monograph If I Should Die, Harding writes that

                    The feminist image of a woman gaining control over her body and her life through abortion rights becomes the other victim of abortion, a helpless girl who is driven to abortion because she has no other way.  With a few more strokes of a pen, If I Should Die converts another feminist image, that of men opposing abortion rights to deprive women of elemental, bodily equality and liberty, into an image of a born-again male hero rising up in the country of reproducing women, a man-father-Father figure who will save girl-mothers, as well as babies, from the maw of abortion. (188; emphasis in original) [10]

          This passage can be interrogated from a pro-life perspective on many levels, the first, of course, being language.  One can note Harding’s preoccupation with “feminist images”–at least three identified here.  In the first image, abortion is defined as “a woman gaining control over her body and her life through abortion rights”.  Note that “abortion” is not defined as either the medical definition of the premature expulsion of the fetus before viability, or defined as the termination (as in “ending”) of a pregnancy by natural or other means, or defined as the killing of an unborn child.  I find it curious, too, that Harding has made the overthrow of the first civil right plural.  What other “rights” are involved in abortion besides the court-sanctioned opportunity to have the unborn child killed?

          The second image which Harding proposes is that opposition to abortion is a male practice–and not only simply to be described as a male practice, but a practice “of men opposing abortion rights to deprive women of elemental, bodily equality and liberty”.  Harding proposes that we accept several aspects of the non sequitur logical fallacy manifested here.  Thus, if any man opposes abortion, then he also wants to deprive women of political rights (“liberty”) and of equal opportunity which is described in such a way that it pertains not only to positions in society (“equality”), but also to their physical integrity (“bodily equality”), which is itself enhanced as being fundamental to their personhood (“elemental, bodily equality”).

          One gets the impression that Harding is caught up in the earliest avatar of feminist literary criticism, which was (and still is) preoccupied with the idea that a male-dominated society, encapsulated in the term “patriarchy”, is one which necessarily oppresses women.  [11]  The language she uses demonstrates that she highly resents males who are involved in the pro-life movement, so much so that the entire movement itself is reduced to the third image that she excoriates, “an image of a born-again male hero rising up in the country of reproducing women, a man-father-Father figure who will save girl-mothers, as well as babies, from the maw of abortion”.  Even the highly connotative word “maw” suggests that the word is suitable because pro-life activism can be equated with a sentimentalized drama.

          Susan Ehrlich’s 2001 monograph Representing Rape: Language and Sexual Consent continues the academic dislike for pro-life terminology.  Although her work is primarily concerned with rape, it is interesting to note the biased use of language in her discussion of the case of Boston abortionist Kenneth Edelin:

                    That the lexical items designating objects and events in a trial can constitute “potentially important social acts” is convincingly demonstrated by Danet (1980) in her analysis of a Massachusetts trial in which a Boston obstetrician-gynaecologist was charged with manslaughter for performing a late abortion.  Focusing on the ways that the prosecution and the defence named and categorized the aborted entity, Danet illuminates the ideological and strategic significance of such choices: the prosecution consistently used terms such as “baby”, “child” and “little baby boy” whereas the defence used terms such as “fetus” and “products of conception”.  In other words, the “war of words” waged in this trial invoked and reproduced more general cultural debates about the “living” status of aborted entities.  After all, intrinsic to legal definitions of manslaughter, and arguably a conviction, is the concept of “killing” which presupposes the prior existence of a “life”. (37-8)

          John V. Pickstone argues in his 2000 monograph, Ways of Knowing: a New History of Science, Technology and Medicine, that American and British abortion “histories, especially if they are comparative, may serve to help us understand the presentation of issues in our present, and the prospects of reaching accommodation, if not agreement” (223; emphasis in original).  Unfortunately, Ehrlich focuses on the connotative impact of words in order to destabilize the facts of abortion history.  Once again, the use of clear and concise language by pro-lifers is apparently the tool which most irritates anti-lifers.

          Ehrlich’s continuation of the assault on pro-life terminology is nothing contrasted against that of Andrea Slane in her 2001 monograph A Not So Foreign Affair: Fascism, Sexuality, and the Cultural Rhetoric of American Democracy.  While most of this monograph is concerned with cultural studies, Slane continues the assault against pro-life ideas on the opening pages:

                    Outside the 1996 Democratic National Convention, a lone white man in a suit and tie staged a one-man antiabortion protest.  Holding an American flag, he clutched a white baby doll to his chest and waved a black one over his head.  As a father figure in a domestic tableau, the man likely wanted to be seen as protecting babies from their bad mothers, who, with the approval of the government, would kill them. (1)

          This passage can be critiqued on the same bases as that of Harding’s earlier.  First, of course, is the incorrect identification of the pro-lifer as an “antiabortionist”.  As long ago as 1987, Faye Ginsburg commented on the difficulty of using biased language in scholarly material.  Studying abortion activists in Fargo, North Dakota, Ginsburg was one of a few scholars who chose to use the correct terms which pro-lifers use to identify themselves, basing her argument on “Malinowski’s axiom that the anthropologist’s task is, in part, to represent the world from the native’s point of view, I have used the appellation each group chooses for itself” (“Procreation” 634).  [12]  Slane, however, is concerned not so much about the content of the ideas which the pro-lifer suggests by his actions as much as she is by the gender of the pro-lifer.  Obviously, being male makes more of a statement worthy of contemporary critical attention than other aspects of his picketing.  The pro-lifer’s attempt at racial equality and patriotism are unremarkable to Slane–at least at this point in her cultural criticism.  What is perhaps more disturbing is the presumption Slane makes that the pro-lifer has made a judgment about the mothers who abort: specifically, that they are “bad mothers” and that this judgment, which she thinks that he wholeheartedly adopts, comes from the babies to be killed by their mothers.  I know of no pro-lifer who has such a condemning attitude toward mothers who abort.  Moreover, Slane may be in one of those scholarly enclaves which sees picketing as the only vehicle for pro-life action, thus eliminating the need to comment on other spheres of activity–legislative, political, judicial, financial, pregnancy support care, etc.–which occupy pro-lifers’ lives.

          More important than this image to be explicated by a cultural studies approach is use of the holocaust metaphor.  Slane bristles at the association of the Nazi holocaust and the one occurring in the United States:

                    The logic of the parallel between Nazi Germany and the United States surely draws in large part on a metaphor of the gigantic human costs of the Holocaust, where state-mandated, scientifically-executed killing is equated with the state-sanctioned legality of elective abortion.  This argument of course depends on the equation of the embryo or fetus with the adults and children exterminated in Nazi death camps–a widespread practice in the antiabortion movement….  By drawing an equation between the murder of millions of Jews and other “undesirables” and abortions, antiabortion advocates hope to succeed in both granting personhood to embryos and casting feminists and abortion doctors as state-sanctioned murderers. (2-3, 80)

          The above quote merges passages spanning eighty pages, and yet they illustrate the consistent vehemence with which contemporary scholarship reacts when faced with the pro-life claim of equality between the two holocausts.  It is significant that Slane’s parallelism grammatically lessens the impact of the abortion holocaust.  Where the genocides of Nazi Germany are labelled “state-mandated, scientifically-executed killing”, the abortion holocaust in the United States is termed “state-sanctioned legality of elective abortion”.  The inference should be clear, according to Slane: the various genocides in Nazi Germany were somehow hoisted on the German nation while abortion was simply recognized by the Supreme Court as a matter of the expression of a voluntary choice.  Slane is unable to recognize the personhood of the unborn child with the personhood of the victim of the Nazi concentration camps.  Commentary has already been given on the inappropriate use of the word “antiabortion”–itself given in tortured and verbose language which should confuse the logical mind (can one really be an “antiabortion advocate”, that is, one who advocates or supports a position against abortion, or one who is against a position of support, or one who…?).  Finally, Slane perpetuates the stereotype that pro-lifers attack feminists and abortionists (called euphemistically “abortion doctors”) personally and label them “murderers”.  This fear, of course, is one expression of what she incorrectly perceives as an ad hominem attack made against anti-lifers.

Application of Ideas from Recent Scholarship to a Representative Passage of Contemporary Literature

          Juliana Baggott’s 2001 collection of poems, This Country of Mothers, contains one poem, “Seventy Degrees in December”, which I have chosen for the experiment expressed at the beginning of this paper–to demonstrate whether ideas from recent scholarship can be used to help students as they study a representative passage of contemporary literature.  Here is the full text of the poem:

  1.

We’ve grown accustomed to death,

but today in warm wind

              the leaves clamber

to return to their limbs–

not from regret as much as confusion.

And I am pregnant again.

This baby I already know,

                 stitching itself

inside me, something desperate.

I imagine its birth feet first

ready to steel itself against gravity.

My grandmother believes that bees

are the souls of the dead,

that dead souls

           are folded, like eggs

with cake batter, into the infant body or before.

Bees dream of the tulip’s sweet cradle.

I pull down a bare limb.

It is covered

          with impossible buds.

  2.

We never grow accustomed to death,

                     leaves, perhaps

but not the baby dying in the womb.

Wasn’t I the desperate one, steeling myself

against birth?

           My grandmother is here again,

this time not with her bees

but to tell me Aunt Effie lost one this way too,

so long inside her, though,

                    it turned to stone.

I imagine that is the weight

that stays in my belly,

                 a rock child that could fit

in the palm of my open hand.

And what of the bare limbs?

Did I expect the impossible buds to bloom? (Baggott 39-40)  [13]

          A near-parallelism in this poem recalls another parallelism in a more famous poem about another kind of failed pregnancy–Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem about abortion titled “The Mother”.  A refrain in Brooks’ poem incarnates the mantra of the post-abortive mother.  “Abortions will not let you forget”, the persona says (Brooks 430).  After discoursing on conditions under which the abortion was performed, the reader cannot determine if the last claim of fact in the poem is sincere or not: “Believe me, I loved you all./ Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you/ All” (430).  I have asked my students to analyze Brooks’ poem many times; they mostly come away from the poem with the idea that the persona is a mother who willingly aborted the child, ostensibly because of dire economic circumstances.  How would my students react, what would they write, if I asked them to do a one-page paper on Baggott’s poem on the condition that they use ideas from contemporary humanities scholarship?

          For “fun and games”, here are two sample papers that I suggest would be written.  The first column will contain a paper written by someone in an institution which values literature more as a means of cultural criticism (naming any university might do to meet this criterion).  The second column will contain a paper written by someone in an institution which values literature in three ways: as literature, as literature which can be viewed from a multiplicity of critical perspectives, and as literature which manifests the ancient dictum of Horace that all literature not only pleases, but also teaches.  Let’s say, also, that the student who will write the second paper is a pro-lifer at a community college where, unlike a student at a cultural studies-based university, he or she will be expected to read, write, and think critically and to master certain subjects which may no longer be “privileged” in other institutions–that is, he or she will be expected to master grammar, rhetoric, and research paper production.

          Obviously, the woman in the poem is oppressed in several ways: first by the fetus itself; second, by all of male society, whose oppressive demands have forced the woman into another, probably unwanted, pregnancy. No man is mentioned in this poem; in fact, the only actors in the poem are women: the woman narrating this poem, the narrator’s grandmother, and the narrator’s Aunt Effie, who is mentioned as an authority. Male history, or, rather, the male version of history is eradicated; it is the women in the poem who have authority.  Therefore, this poem is a celebration of women’s voices which have been suppressed for millennia.           Whatever emotional trauma the woman feels for the fetus is a product of centuries of manipulative male ordering of society which we are only now beginning to overcome. Several contemporary authors such as Ewa Plonowska Ziarek have affirmed the importance of our sexuality as a matter which supersedes other social interests.  Moreover, we must be aware of how language can be used to distort reality.  For example, Susan Ehrlich has argued that language can be used to attempt to hoist humanity on non-beings such as fetuses.  Susan Friend Harding and Andrea Slane similarly caution us against falling into antiabortion language traps, which will enslave women.          Obviously, the mother is suffering from the loss of her unborn child.  First, of course, the title suggests that something is abnormal; it is not normal in this northern climate that December should have such high temperatures. The first stanza continues this motif of abnormality: instead of staying on the ground after they have fallen off the trees, “the leaves clamber/ to return to their limbs”.  The impending miscarriage is intimated by the imagery of “a bare limb” and “impossible buds”.  The leaves’ wanting “to return to their limbs” may personify the hope that the unborn child could somehow restore him- or herself in the womb.           Although the poem cannot be scanned in a regular pattern, certain phrases seem to read as spondees, suggesting heaviness.  For example, the line “Bees dream of the tulip’s sweet cradle” can be scanned so that the first two words constitute a spondee: “Bees dream”. Several similes, metaphors, and personifications help to convey the importance of the loss of the child.           Socially and politically, this poem may have great importance.  Unlike many other contemporary literary works, the unborn child is personified as “this baby”.  The genderless reflexive pronoun is used twice, but it is used in such a way that the humanity of this child to-be-miscarried is not demeaned: “I imagine its birth feet first/ ready to steel itself against gravity”.  Perhaps the use of this pronoun reflects the anguish of the mother who cannot bear to think further that the unborn child is either a son or a daughter.  The mother expresses her anguish poignantly as she affirms that “We never grow accustomed to death,/ leaves, perhaps/ but not the baby dying in the womb”.           While many critics hold negative views toward the family (such as Susan Ehrlich and Andrea Slane), others (including Kevin M. Crotty) have recently indicated the importance of the family.  In fact, one critic, Anthony Cunningham, suggests that any loss of an unborn child has severe ramifications for the parents.  The family relationships of the mother are obscure.  While she does refer to some persons in her family who strive to support her (her grandmother, for example), the males in her family are absent.  Where is her boyfriend, male partner, or husband?           Finally, this poem can be reviewed through many literary perspectives, for example, psychological criticism, to determine the emotions of the narrator; feminist criticism, to determine how the mother feels oppressed by the loss of the unborn child; or Marxist criticism, to determine the value of the unborn child who meant a great deal to this mother.

          Of course, such a reductionism as the above papers exemplify is meant to prove a point.  If students are offered only a biased view of one of the major political and social movements of our time, then they will not only produce papers which are reductionist (once one says that a work of literature can be blamed on oppression of women by men, what is left that’s important enough to say?).  They will also produce papers which will satisfy the political correctivity of the instructor.  We are well aware of the so-called liberal bias of academics.  A recent online article carried by LifeSite News from Canada mentions, for example, that “a poll of Ivy League university professors in the U.S. has found that only one per cent want a legal ban on abortion” (Westen).  [14]  If an instructor steeps him- or herself only in a biased scholarship–and if that is one which is primarily derived from an anti-life view of the world, then his or her students will suffer not only from lack of objectivity in writing papers designed for academic use, but also from a stifling political correctivity that will be carried into the world once those students graduate.

          Fortunately, once they graduate and realize that various “feminist images” proposed to them are either vapid or false, I trust that these students who have been academically nurtured on anti-life pablum will switch to our side.  Nobody feels comfortable in a condition of living a lie–witness, to her great credit, Norma McCorvey.  I hold that pro-lifers are more intellectually honest when it comes to literature discussion.  Unlike anti-life academics who may omit pro-life research, we are able to use the best from the bad (anti-life) criticism as well as the best of ancient and modern pedagogy and andragogy.  Therefore, we are crucial in academia, for it is our job to see that students are educated not so that they become partisans to anti-life principles, but that they become and remain open to the best that comprehensive humanities research has to offer.

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    [1]  Although their work does not concern abortion, some scholars think that a study of the first right-to-life issue is needed.  For example, Nicholas Dames responded by email that his 2001 monograph, Amnesiac Selves: Nostalgia, Forgetting, and British Fiction, 1810-1870, “contains nothing pertaining to abortion.  An interesting possibility, but I can’t think (offhand) of any recent scholarship on the issue” of abortion.  Similarly, Edvige Giunta confirmed in an email that her 2002 monograph, Writing with an Accent: Contemporary Italian American Women Authors, also does not concern abortion, “though it certainly deserves attention”.

    [2]  For example, the introduction to the 2000 monograph A History of Women’s Writing in Italy, edited by Letizia Panizza and Sharon Wood, contains only the briefest reference to abortion: “Abortion was the second issue which drew women in their hundreds of thousands in a campaign of information and civil disobedience, and was finally legalised in 1978, thus largely ending a hidden but widely felt scandal” (8-9).

    [3]  See, for example, Kopaczynski’s 1994 article “Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: Laying the Groundwork for Abortion” (Cithara 33.2: 18-29).  I am especially grateful that Kopaczynski responded to an urgent email query of mine recently, when I sought to determine further the bases of Beauvoir’s support for abortion.  In that email Kopaczynski writes: “I have checked the French original; even there, Beauvoir does not give any indication precisely where she got the quote supposedly from St. Augustine”.  Beauvoir may have inaccurately tried to recall some material from other works.  Kopaczynski suggests that “if it be from St. Augustine, I would opine that the most likely source is his ‘De nuptiis et concupiscentia.’ Another possibility would be from one of his sermons”.

    [4]  The continuation of this paragraph suggests the source for the abortionists’ version of the right to privacy:

                        Sarah Weddington, an unemployed law school graduate who belonged to a consciousness-raising group in Austin, Texas, investigated the legal risks of providing an underground abortion referral service.  Her research revealed the possibility of a legal challenge to laws against abortion based on the right to privacy. (202)

    [5]  One thinks immediately of Birthright, because, beginning with one office in Toronto in 1968, the organization expanded first throughout the metropolitan Toronto area, then advanced into various Canadian provinces.  In 1972 Birthright expanded internationally by opening an office in Atlanta, though the first chartered chapter was established in Chicago.  Louise Summerhill, Birthright’s founder, travelled to South Africa in the late 1970s to set up chapters.  Birthright was “one of the only volunteer organizations in South Africa which helped whites, coloureds and blacks indiscriminately”, according to the founder’s daughter, Ms. Louise R. Summerhill.  By the early 1980s Birthright expanded to a total of over five hundred offices in North America.  Moreover, there are numerous other pregnancy service organizations which either modeled themselves after Birthright or expanded services beyond Birthright’s original platform.

            In a now-dated 1998 telephone interview, Summerhill estimates conservatively that two million calls were received by Birthright affiliates.  Birthright now receives 50,000 calls annually through its hotline alone (1-800-550-4900).  She also estimates that there are about five hundred affiliates, but the number is constantly changing.  There are about seventy affiliates in Canada, 450 in the United States, and others in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, and Hong Kong.  Although Birthright affiliates are not on every continent, Summerhill states that the group has helped women on all continents through various contacts.  Finally, since confidentiality is such a strong factor, few records are kept in the offices; thus, Birthright volunteers do not know how many babies were born to women who visited Birthright.

            To put closure on this matter, I asked Evans by email whether her work says “anything about counter‑abortion groups, such as Birthright”.  Her emailed reply was “I deal mainly with the pre‑Roe V. Wade era (which means I do not deal with groups like Birthright).”

    [6]  Research by Jack and Barbara Willke, summarizing legislative activity on abortion, is noteworthy here.  Thirty-three states “voted against permitting abortion for any reason except to save the mother’s life” (157).  Moreover, these authors note that

                        In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, pro-abortionists challenged the constitutionality of laws forbidding abortion in most states.  In about 1/3 of the decisions, such laws were declared unconstitutional and varying degrees of abortions were permitted.  (Most were states that had already legalized abortion[.)]  Two thirds of the state courts[,] however, declared existing laws to be constitutional. (157)

    [7]  In rather lugubrious language Ewa Plonowska Ziarek argues along the same lines in her 2001 monograph An Ethics of Dissensus: Postmodernity, Feminism, and the Politics of Radical Democracy:

                        If we approach sexual difference as the disappropriative labor of the negative revealing the incompleteness of the subject and the asymmetry of sexual relations, then the possibility of all ethical encounters, including erotic ones, depends not only on embodiment but, more specifically, on the condition of being a sexed subject. (221)

    [8]  This passage compares with Hauerwas’ 1981 commentary on a claim by Rawls that “the family may be a barrier to equal chances between individuals” (277).  Finally, Crotty’s claim about the force of the family’s influence on the individual reflects current sociological and communication theorist definitions of the term.  Judy C. Pearson and Paul E. Nelson’s 2000 monograph, An Introduction to Human Communication: Understanding and Sharing, 8th ed., defines “family” as “an organized, naturally occurring, relational, transactional group, usually occupying a common living space over an extended time period and possessing a confluence of interpersonal images that evolve through the exchange of meaning over time” (182).

    [9]  I do not think a pun was intended.

    [10]  Despite such an overall biased approach towards right-to-lifers, Harding does supply some objective details about pro-life history within the born-again communities.  She states that Evangelical involvement in the right-to-life movement can be attributed to “three overlapping stages and venues”:

                        The first was the…internal debate among evangelical scholars and intellectual leaders that heated up after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision….  The second stage, the effort to convert conservative Protestant leaders more generally to a stricter anti-abortion position, was launched in 1975 when Billy Graham convened a two-day leadership meeting to “determine a proper Biblical response to abortion-on-demand”….  Perhaps the most important event in this second stage was the production and distribution in 1978 of the five-part film series Whatever Happened to the Human Race?.  The film and an accompanying book with the same title were written by Francis Schaeffer IV and C. Everett Koop…. (191)

    [11]  See, for example, Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray’s 1997 dictionary of literary terms widely used in the classroom, The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms.  Citing the work of French feminist Julia Kristeva, the editors note that it is essential to understand that “feminine or feminist writing that resists or refuses participation in ‘masculine’ discourse risks being politically marginalized in a society which still is, after all, patriarchal” (123).  David H. Richter’s 1998 anthology of literary criticism, The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends (2nd ed.), begins with the claims that “patriarchal misogyny, the canon, and women’s writing are key issues for the critics” whose writings are represented in the chapter on feminist literary theory.

            Since its publication in 2000, another popular summary of contemporary literary theories appears in the anthology Literature for Composition: Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, 5th ed.  The editors, Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto, William E. Cain, and Marcia Stubbs, declare that

                        Feminist critics rightly point out that men have established the conventions of literature and that men have established the canon–that is, the body of literature that is said to be worth reading.  Speaking a bit broadly, in this patriarchal or male-dominated body of literature, men are valued for being strong and active, whereas women are expected to be weak and passive. (509)

    [12]  To her credit, Ginsburg reiterated this axiom in another work on the same subject.  In her article “The Case of Mistaken Identity: Problems in Representing Women on the Right”, published in the 1993 collection When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography, Ginsburg affirms that “However divided the field of sociocultural anthropology has become, Malinowski’s axiom–that the ethnographer’s task is to represent the native’s point of view–is still widely accepted” (163).

    [13]  I would like to thank Southern Illinois University Press for granting permission to print this poem.  For full bibliographic information, please see the Baggott entry in the Works Cited.

    [14]  The rest of the online article is worth quoting in its entirety:

                        The disturbing results of the recent poll by Luntz Research Associates found that 84 per cent of the professors supported Al Gore in the elections, with only 9 per cent supporting President Bush.  Only one of five professors attended religious services at least once a week. Forty‑eight percent said they rarely or never attended a religious service.  Analyzing the data, writer Maggie Gallagher warns, “academia has as rigid a hierarchy of status as the military, and a handful of top schools not only set the tone for the nation’s academics, but they also train and influence the next generation of American leaders.  Ideological uniformity is dangerous to the primary intellectual mission of any university: the pursuit of knowledge. How much will professors of (look at the list)‑‑government, political science, law, philosophy, social sciences, economics, sociology‑‑overlook and fail to explore if their work takes place in a relatively insular, parochial intellectual community, free from radically competing points of view?”  Zero per cent of the professors polled identified themselves as conservative. Six percent said they were somewhat conservative, 23 percent were moderates, 30 percent somewhat liberal and 34 percent liberal, with a margin of error of 8 percent.

Categories
Papers

Adolescent Fiction on Abortion: Developing a Paradigm and Pedagogic Responses from Literature Spanning Three Decades

I.        Justification for This Study and Criteria for Novels

          Consider these following possible first lines:

          “It was a dark and stormy night….”

          “The inspector looked at the knife protruding from the back of the deceased….”

          “Tiffany wondered whether she would ever meet the man of her dreams….”

          Each opening line indicates in what genre the work of fiction can be categorized.  For Gothic fiction, for example, the paradigm seems to be that there must be a dark, ruined castle.  There must be a heroine or some other damsel in distress.  There must be a sinister presence.  The opening section, if not the opening paragraph or the opening line, must address certain meteorological circumstances (accounting for the derivative line ridiculed in much fiction “It was a dark and stormy night…”).  And there must be love.  [1]

          A detective novel will situate the reader immediately so that he or she will be hooked into reading about how someone has been murdered.

          For a romance–whether it is a Harlequin or a Danielle Steel or a paperback which features a Fabio-type [2] stud on the cover holding a sweet virginal and buxom young woman lest she fall–certain other criteria of the paradigm must be met (including some already facetiously stated here).  [3]  Although feminism has empowered women to unparalleled degrees in the last thirty years, the contemporary romance is still much fashionable with young American women and appeals to them for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the appeal of the glossy-covered paperback romances indicates just how successful the romance paradigm is in the marketplace of ideas.  Women buy these books or borrow them from the libraries because they follow a basic pattern: girl meets boy; boy and girl fall in love; girl and boy fall out of love; boy and girl are tortured for a time; and finally girl and boy fall in love again and live happily ever after (whether that living is done in a sacramental union or not is up to the individual writer’s tastes and religious and moral persuasions).

          Before analyzing details of a possible paradigm of the typical adolescent abortion novel, we must consider an important presumption of this paper.  Why should we even care what our students read when they were teens when they are now in college or university?  After all, we who are on the faculties of colleges and universities have much more important matters to lecture about and cannot worry about what our students read when they were still teens.  While there are definite civil rights and biological rights involved in answering this question, I will propose a more pedagogic response, based on some recent classroom experiences with adult abortion fiction.  The following example of literature discussion will demonstrate why we should care.

          Recently, while teaching Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants”, the inability of the students to sympathize with the female main character, Jig, was striking.  First, of course, few students know on an initial reading that the story is about abortion.  Secondly, even after a traditional New Critical close reading, few students came to understand how tortured Jig feels about being coerced into having an abortion.  This inability to appreciate Jig’s anxiety is further complicated for the student because there are no “stage directions”–markers which indicate, for example, with what tone of voice a line of dialogue should be read–to help the student understand certain key passages.  Consider the following lines from the story.

                   “You don’t have to be afraid.  I’ve known lots of people that have done it.”

                   “So have I,” said the girl.  “And afterward they were all so happy.”

          …

                   “Do you feel better?” he asked.

                   “I feel fine,” she said.  “There’s nothing wrong with me.  I feel fine.”  (Hemingway 322, 324)

These lines can be read in multiple ways, especially because, although the prime marker is one of hyberbaton used in the first sequence and none in the last two lines of the story, the author himself gives no indication what words should be emphasized more to indicate the tone of the character’s voice.  For example, Jig’s last line can be read so that emphasis is given on the first-person pronoun: “I [meaning not you, American man, but I, your lover] feel fine” or “There’s nothing wrong with me [meaning this pregnancy is a problem for you, American man, but not for me; I want the child]”.  With such emphasis, the entire result of this story moves from life-negating to life-affirming.

          Some mechanism prohibiting satisfactory interpretation similarly operated in my literature classes.  Nearly every student presumed that Jig acquiesced in the American man’s effort to force her into abortion.  [4]  When I asked my students if they have ever read anything like Hemingway’s story before, the inevitable negative answer made me ask further: what did these new college students, most of whom are just out of high school, read before?

          I realize that was a loaded question.  As we know not only from our own experience in the classroom but also from Hirsch’s seminal work, the databank of “common knowledge” is disappearing among American students.  [5]  E=mc2?  Huh?  The Madonna as opposed to Madonna?  Wha?  When did World War II begin for the British Empire?  Duh…  Similarly, while it can be argued that what most of my students, especially the ones from government schools, said to me may be true (that they never read a book through all of high school), I thought that they must be reading something.  The libraries continue to buy paperback novels geared for teens.  These novels enjoy high circulation.  And many of these novels are about abortion.  And so I began to investigate abortion as a topic in adolescent fiction.

          The novels which I will discuss in this paper have been selected on the bases of four criteria.  First, the novels must primarily concern abortion as an actuality or potentiality within the plot development.  This necessary condition excludes many other novels which may happen to include teens as subordinate characters but whose true protagonists and antagonists are adults whose actions affect (and may even effect) the actions of young people.

          Secondly, these novels must be established teen fiction.  The novels I have selected have stood perhaps the most important criterion which demarcates whether a work is to be canonized, the test of time.  Granted, while the issue of abortion has a relatively longer history in the adult American literary canon (one thinks of Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is the Night published in 1934 or of William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms of 1939), for teenagers the abortion issue did not hit young adult fictional concerns until the early 1970s.  It is striking that adolescent fiction should have had such a delayed reaction from the swarm of controversy as represented in adult novels on abortion.  And yet there may be definite reasons to account for this delayed reaction.  As Zena Sutherland, a commentator of children’s books writes:

                    Many children today have seen more violence and more sexual titillation on television and in the news than children knew of in the past; almost every child has heard rough language that earlier generations never heard–or didn’t hear until they were adults.  Not all of these issues affect every child directly, but almost every child knows about them.  These facets of contemporary society have appeared in adult literature and, following a pattern of long standing, after a time, they began to appear in books for adolescents, then in books for younger children.  Beginning in the late 1960s, one taboo after another was broken in children’s literature.  (15)

Thus, whatever is meant by the “pattern of long standing”, it seems that the world of adult fiction was the testing ground for explosive issues which eventually filtered into the adolescent category.  Furthermore, Ramsdell affirms that reading interests of teens changed in the late 1960s, stating:

                    During the 1940s, 1950s, and well into the 1960s, most of the female teenage population was eagerly devouring the light romances….  Many of them, of course, also dealt with the more substantial issues….  However, the general tone was always innocent and upbeat, and serious topics such as divorce, pregnancy, sex, marriage, drug and alcohol abuse, or death were rarely discussed.  With the advent of the “problem novel” in the late 1960s, things did an about-face.  Romance was out and reality was in.  Typically, these realistic, often urban-set novels reflected the turbulent times, and social themes such as alienation, isolation, abuse, pregnancy, death, drugs, prejudice, poverty, divorce, injustice, and sex were the rule.  (212)

          Thirdly, the novels to be discussed are popular not only with the library community (especially young adult librarians whose recommendations often determine whether the books will be purchased for public and school library collections).  [6]  These novels are also popular with the readers themselves in terms of theme.  Teen readers want to read about the lives of such experiential-based characters.  As Diana Tixier Herald indicates in her study of teen reading preferences in her recent book, Teen Genreflecting: “Even with the escalating rate of teen pregnancy and the prevalence of teens keeping their babies, teens still want to read about how others cope with the situations caused by early parenthood” (86).  A subdivisional point of this criterion is that, with one significant exception, all novels had to be American in production or authorship.  If the United States is the greatest advocate of abortion legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy, then studying how American teens respond to abortion fiction may suggest what tone future voters will bring to political resolution of this biological rights question.  [7]

          Finally, the titles I will examine will be what I consider the best for either the span of years they cover in the real world of abortion politics or for the subject matter it expounds.

II.       Paradigm for Teen Abortion Novels

          To begin a discussion of the novels, I propose that a template can be helpful.  As there are various genres of fiction addressing adult reading interests, each of which has a necessary template, I argue that adolescent fiction on abortion has a template, a paradigm, which orders the novel, the world being depicted, and the characters who move within that world. [8]  More importantly, perhaps my paradigm will convey some common themes in teen abortion fiction to which we in higher academia can respond.

                     Paradigmatic Elements of Adolescent Abortion Fiction

1)  A teenaged girl (unmarried, seventeen years old, and irreligious) reluctantly discovers that she is a mother.

          a)  The young mother usually can recount several previous sexual adventures with the father of the child.

          b)  She has difficulty telling not only the father of the child (who is usually the same age and equally irreligious), but also her family about the pregnancy.

          c)  She expresses fears that she will be rejected by the father of the child and her family.

2)  The reaction of the teen father to the pregnancy has three immediate effects.

          a)  He usually accuses the mother of not having used contraception effectively.

          b)  Either not thinking or not aware about alternatives to abortion, he may renounce his child completely; he may also renounce the mother herself.

          c)  The teen father will either encourage or pressure the mother of his child to have an abortion.

3)  The mother agonizes over deciding whether to abort or to give birth.

          a)  She sees concrete instances of young mothers who are burdened with their newborns and few examples of young mothers who are happy.

          b)  She thinks that her decision on abortion is constrained by medical or legal limits regarding when abortions can be performed.

4)  The decision regarding abortion can generate two significant outcomes for the mother.

          a)  If the mother aborts, especially if the abortion was arranged by either her parents or others, the mother immediately regrets the choice; the relationship with the father inevitably deteriorates, and the novel will end either clearly negatively or ambiguously.

          b)  If she does not abort, the mother will become more mature (whether she decides to keep the baby or put him or her up for adoption); novels which depict that this choice has been exercised will invariably end positively.

          Two points must be remembered while I read this paper.  I will group all subdivisional aspects of a Roman numeral level from my outline together for easier discussion.  Moreover, the functions of each primary level of the outline could be collapsed into four dependent phrases: Roman numeral I: the Teenaged Girl Becomes a Mother; Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction; Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision; and Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision.  [9]  While there are details in individual novels which I will consider which do not fit the paradigm exactly, most novels on abortion for adolescents which I have read and researched generally reinforce the structure presented above to a surprising degree.

          Now to analyze specific fictional works.

III.  Analyses of the Novels

          While the decade of the 1960s offers few examples of fiction solely devoted to teenagers dealing with abortion, there are several good examples which can be considered a prelude to the format of most other teen abortion novels.  One of these is Shirley Ann Grau’s The House on Coliseum Street (1961) which depicts what can happen to a young woman who is wealthy, aware that she can attract many men, and who is sexually promiscuous.

Roman numeral I: the “Teen” Mother

          Although she is twenty-years-old (27), three more years than what the paradigm would suggest is the standard, Joan’s behavior is reminiscent of an adolescent.  She is unable to develop social contacts, even to the point of taking an obscure job in the library far away from other people where she attends college (71). In fact, Joan’s self-esteem is so low that she manifests masochistic tendencies (51-2).  She is unmarried, a lapsed Catholic (8), and is reluctant to acknowledge that she might be pregnant.  Joan has had a variety of sexual experiences: not only does she engage in intercourse with her steady boyfriend (83), but she also becomes attracted to a wilder type of man, whom she later discovers is a professor at the college she attends (115).  Although her mother asks her if she is being “careful” (86), the reader discovers much later in the story that Joan had been using a diaphragm as her main means of contraception (219).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          When Joan becomes pregnant, Michael places blame for the pregnancy on her, saying that he thought she would be “careful” (124).  In many ways, their conversation about the three ways to handle the pregnancy is presented on the page in ways similar to Hemingway’s story.  Using clipped dialogue, the man is for the abortion while the woman expresses some doubts (125-7).

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          Although there is little to suggest that she suffers agony in the decision regarding abortion, Joan is able to personalize the unborn child, even though dehumanizing terms are simultaneously used.  While she refers to the unborn baby as “the child” in one place, she later says, “it would look something like a shrimp, or a piece of seaweed” (119).  Joan acknowledges that the unborn baby is “another generation inside of me.  A tiny point of life, a floating point of life” (138).

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          Since this novel is written in medias res, the reader learns early on that Joan’s mother arranged for the abortion (9); Joan herself derisively thinks how organized her mother became to make arrangements for it (132-3).  Although the problems attending the abortion decision seemed to have been lessened for her since her mother and aunt were the ones who planned the abortion, Joan suffers greatly after the abortion is performed.

          Amazingly, once the abortion had been performed, Joan “had forgotten to tell Michael”, the father of the child (141); later, however, he was happy that she had the abortion (153).

          With the beginnings of what we would now call post-abortion syndrome, Joan minimizes the effect of the abortion by literally minimizing the aborted child: he or she becomes “a tiny speck of a child” (154).  A few pages later she is having regrets about the abortion (156).  Elsewhere, she wonders what would have been done “with the little shrimp child” (174).  She cannot eradicate the memory of the child, though.  Joan still recalls the baby (204) and assumes that “the hurt will stop when I’m pregnant” (217); many pages later she still thinks of the aborted child (241).

          Joan’s social life deteriorates considerably.  She skips classes and becomes no longer interested in her steady boyfriend Fred (176), who later confronts her about the abortion (178-80).  Joan tries to get Michael fired from his teaching position at the college by saying he arranged for the abortion (235-8).  She does this to get revenge against Michael, who now has not only merely one new girlfriend (a younger student), but also a second new girlfriend, Joan’s younger sister.  The ending of the story shows the effect of Joan’s life destroyed: after she tells the dean of the college about Michael’s supposedly urging her to have an abortion, she knows she has to “leave”; at novel’s end Joan is symbolically locked out of her house, sitting on the porch (242).

          Winifred Madison’s Growing Up in a Hurry (1973) is the story of sixteen-year-old Karen who develops a romance with Steve, a Japanese-American boy.  Published in the same year as the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, this novel clearly illustrates the paradigm in action.

Roman numeral I: the Teen Mother

          The circumstances of the protagonist in this novel are worth examination.  Karen is a sixteen-year-old (3) who is on a first-name basis with her parents: her slightly aggressive mother, Martha, and her more congenial father, Ross (5-6).  Karen has a stutter (8) and probably because of this suffers low self-esteem (11).  Karen’s older sister is using the pill (40) and her mother is too busy socially to be involved with her (65-6).  Steve, Karen’s boyfriend, is depicted as an enlightened individual who has seen more of the world than the sheltered Karen.  He brings her to visit his friends as they do drugs (76-7); he even encourages her to attend a “population control” talk in their community (83).  Halfway through the novel they engage in sexual intercourse (96-7).  Karen’s sense of religion is displayed when she thanks “Whoever” that her period came (99).  Unfortunately, however, Karen later realizes that she is pregnant and calls it a “Terrible Discovery” (120-1).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          Before their sexual encounter, Steve suggests that Karen go to a “clinic” for “protection” (97).  She lacks the courage to enter it, however (99-100).  Although she asserts that she is using “the rhythm thing” (109), Karen is careless about “marking calendars” (118).

          When informed about the pregnancy, Steve at first feels male pride in being a father, but immediately thereafter suggests that she have an abortion (124-5).  Steve commands Karen to go to a clinic for a pregnancy test; if positive, she should get an abortion.

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          Karen’s experiences with babies is not positive; she sees a sad sixteen-year-old with a baby (47).  Later in the novel, there is a scene of a mother and her child intruding on the conversation (126-7).

          And yet, Karen’s language describing the unborn child shows her ambiguity regarding the humanity of the unborn.  Often Karen will identify the unborn child as a baby (125).  In contrast, the child is called “a Thing, an Encumbrance”, or simply “it” (131).  At one point Karen admits that “it” is “my baby” (159).

          Karen decides on abortion and calls an abortionist (133-4).  She recalls stories and stereotypes about “abortion butchers” (138).  Significantly, the first abortionist she goes to avoids the word “abortion” (142).  The first estimate she receives is that the abortion will cost 300$.  Unable to pay such a large amount, she contemplates suicide (144).  A second abortionist talks about “wanted” life (161) and ultimately convinces her to have one.  She is helped in her decision by her mother who, although personally against abortion, thinks that it is the right decision for Karen (probably because news of Karen’s pregnancy would be a social embarrassment if it reached the mother’s circle of friends) (151).  At another point, Karen presumes she may need to go to a psychiatrist for approval for the abortion.  It is this fact in the novel which can indicate that either the action is pre-1973 or the characters think that lack of a psychiatric barrier could prohibit an abortion being done on a teenager (161).

          More importantly, after deciding on abortion, Karen thinks that Steve will fade from her life (148).  She states that she would have turned back from going to the abortionist if Steve had been there to stop her (157).

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          After Karen has the abortion, the immediate reaction is sorrow, not even the presumed joy that the “problem” has been resolved.  In fact, a couple of pages later, the novel ends with this note of dejection (166-8).

          Originally published in Sweden in 1973 and then published by Viking Press, Gunnel Beckman’s Mia Alone (1975) has enjoyed continuous popularity since its debut, perhaps for two reasons.  First, the cultural milieu of Mia Alone does not differ as radically as another multicultural novel would.  Secondly, coming onto the publishing scene so soon after Roe v. Wade made the subject matter of the novel contemporary, meaningful, and interesting for young readers.

Roman numeral I: the Teenaged Girl Becomes a Mother

          Seventeen-year-old (56) Mia is faced with the difficult situation of not knowing, but presuming that she is pregnant.  Her attraction to her lover Jan is based on physical attributes primarily.  Mia had slept with him five times (29-30).  Several pages later, the reader discovers that they had used condoms (49). Much later in the progression of the novel, Mia’s mother asks her daughter whether she even knows about contraceptives (120).

          The indicators for Mia’s religious sense are clear.  Mia views the ban against sex before marriage as sanctimonious (37) and later in the novel she even questions the existence of right and wrong (39).  Similarly, to match her lack of a religious sense, Jan is described as an atheist, even though his father is a minister (75).  The closest one comes to determining the ethics and morals by which these young people operate is in a statement contrasting two world views: Mia refers to “the Christian’s talk” in distinction to her family’s ethics (106).  One presumes that the family’s ethical sense is devoid of a Christianizing influence.  Thus, for example, Mia is able to assert that using contraceptives was “a sin” in a time which she designates only as “before”, but that now financial and social exigencies not only suggest contraceptive use but require it (40).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          Jan has little to say about the possible pregnancy.  Although he (and presumably Mia) have had sex education since age five (35-6), Jan had been specifically taught that abortion was murder (51-2).  Jan’s purported sense of respect for the unborn child, then, functions in this novel only to be an agent of distress to the young mother.

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          Babies are not a good subject or influence for Mia.  Since her agony over being pregnant occurs around the Christmas season, the holy day itself takes on an emblematic function in the novel. Since Mia’s exclamation “If only it hadn’t been Christmas” is repeated twice (16), the reader’s attention is drawn to the importance not only of the season, but also of the main character’s reaction to it; the reader would thus question such a seemingly hopeless response.  It is significant that the author has Mia note someone else’s screaming baby (15).  It is even more interesting that Mia says that she hates Christmas (43) and doesn’t say what Christmas is all about when she relates her “distaste” of it (78).

          Family influences further complicate Mia’s thinking about abortion.  Mia’s parents are separating.  Her father is openly anti-life (103), and Mia’s mother specifically states that she thought about abortion when she was carrying her (21).  Her mother’s negativity extends to the condition of all women; she says that women are in a “rat trap” (15).  Moreover, Mia’s grandmother, whom she respects greatly, asserts that women’s liberation for her does not include abortion (64-5).

          Mia displays the ambivalence which is typical for young mothers in these novels.  A three-week fetus is described as looking “horrid” (42).  Mia’s response to a classroom situation-ethics type question regarding the survival of a human baby is “God, what a mess” (40).  Abortion for Mia is equated with “having it taken away” (94).  Only the mother is viewed as “the living person” (106).  However, despite her lack of a religious sense, Mia identifies the unborn child with distinctively humanizing terms which the omniscient narrator supplies to help the reader understand what’s going on in Mia’s mind.  Mia, or so the narrator reports, calls the possible unborn baby a “a child, which was perhaps already inside her” (21) or the “possible child” (53).  Not only does Mia’s family compound her agony, but it seems as though this same omniscient narrator also aggravates her: the narrator asks Mia questions about abortion similar to those offered in clinic situations (41).  In this way, the narrator of the novel functions as the catalyst for dialogue on the issue of abortion.

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          Fortunately for Mia, however, a possible untimely pregnancy is ruled out, almost like a deus ex machina: Mia’s period comes a month late (113).  [10]  One of her first reactions is happiness that she doesn’t have to make a decision about abortion (114).  However, Mia is committed not to make the same mistake (whether that is getting involved sexually or merely risking becoming pregnant again) in a passage which is strikingly repetitious and adamant in its resolution:

                    It was as if she would never again be as she had been before, childish like that, and unaware and credulous.  Never, never ever again would she expose herself to this.  Never.  Never ever take a single risk again.  That’s what it felt like.  (117)

As a final consequence of her possible pregnancy, Mia turns against Jan (121).

          Although Rosa Guy’s Edith Jackson (1978) contains writing which drags in some places (92-3), the novel provides insights into the factors which may persuade an African-American teen mother to abort, including financial, familial, and distorted sexual concerns.

Roman numeral I: the Teen Mother

          Written in first-person, Edith is a seventeen-year-old African-American (4) whose mother died from tuberculosis and whose father abandoned the family shortly before (29-30).  Edith plans to quit school to raise her siblings (35).  One other important figure in her life, her minister Reverend Jenkins, sexually assaults her (41-2).  Edith’s sister Bessie is similarly being sexually aroused by “Uncle” Daniels (the boyfriend or live-in lover of Mother Peters, who is Edith’s foster mother) (60-1).

          Another woman who shows great interest in Edith is Mrs. Bates who tells Edith that she doesn’t “count” (53).  It is Mrs. Bates who introduces the idea of “choice” to Edith–but here choice merely means intellectual progress (54-5).  Later in the novel, Mrs. Bates says that Edith should be “a person who can make choices and fight for them” (57).

          Edith’s attitudes toward sex and children are displayed in a few key utterances.  She says that her parents should not have had more kids after her sister Bessie was born (74).  And, although Edith helps with the abandoned children in the institution to which she is ultimately sent after her stay with another foster family is terminated (98-100), her positive caring attitude toward one particular abandoned child is tempered by a social worker at the institution who says that the “luxury of choices” is denied to black children (103-4).  This nuance of “choice” can be balanced by another statement said by Mrs. Bates regarding Edith’s sister’s being adopted by white Jews (it is a “wise choice” in her opinion) (129-30).

          Edith’s first sexual encounter with any man is with James, the thirty-two-year-old nephew of Mrs. Bates (139-41).  Even after he returns to his aunt’s house after an extended absence, his first thought seems to be to get physical with Edith (134).  Edith becomes pregnant by him (145).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          When she discovers she is pregnant, Edith wants to tell James to share the good news with him, hoping that he will want to marry her (154).  James’ response is anything but altruistic.  While Edith just wants to talk with him about getting married, James rushes her to a friend’s apartment where he tries to force sex with her (156).

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          In the absence of a strong moral foundation, Edith can rely only on the opinions of others regarding abortion.  Mrs. Bates’ daughter Debra thinks that Edith should have an abortion (145); in fact, Debra asserts that abortions are common among her college friends (147).  Ruby, the sister of Edith’s best friend Phyllisia, is sick in bed but the friend casually comments that she “only had an abortion” (175).  When she goes to a welfare office to seek financial help with having the baby, Edith is faced with a couple of episodes of children who are certainly not angelic.  A belligerent child in the office waiting room disturbs her (182).  More negative images of children immediately follow this scene (184).

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          This novel ends with Edith deciding to have an abortion; she calls Mrs. Bates who will be with her during it (186-7).  However, her decision to kill the unborn child is obviously negative: when she makes the fateful phone call to her lover’s aunt, Edith does so haltingly, stuttering and stammering in her attempt to get the words out.

          Harriett Luger’s Lauren (1979) is a good example of teen abortion fiction closing out the first decade of abortion legal in the United States.

Roman numeral I: the Teen Mother

          Lauren’s home life presents great difficulties for the heroine of this novel.  Her parents fight a lot (6); later in the novel, in one particularly demeaning argument, they suggest that they have other romantic involvements.  In fact, Lauren’s mother intimates that she got married because she was pregnant (147-8).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          Lauren’s male friends are typical adolescents ogling sex pictures and who claim to be familiar with sex.  The reaction of Lauren’s boyfriend Donnie on hearing she is pregnant is to command her to go to Planned Parenthood (19).  He has a chance to obtain an academic scholarship, and, since he does not want to jeopardize his chances at obtaining it and she hasn’t followed through with his first recommendation, he commands her again to do something (23-4).  Donnie asserts that he will “stick by” Lauren (39).  They fight, however, when she thinks he’s more concerned about his chemistry test than her or the baby (40-1).

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          Lauren’s terminology used to describe the unborn child is typically ambivalent as in other adolescent novels.  Abortion is described euphemistically as “taking care of” pregnancy (4).  She calls the baby a “worm” (21-2).  During an exam, Lauren thinks that the baby could be a “monster” in retribution for her “sin” (34).  Lauren calls the unborn child a “ghost” and an “it” (67).  At one point she calls the baby a “little bastard” and, to “get even” with it, she thinks she will “let [the baby] be born” (104). Despite such dehumanizing language, she knows that the unborn child is a baby (29).  Not only that, but she thinks of the baby as a person: “a me, an I” (154).  After an attempted suicide, Lauren’s changing attitude is expressed through the omniscient narrator who calls the fetus a “tiny creature”, a positive sign that the humanity of the unborn child is secure now that Lauren chose life for herself and, by implication, saved the child from death as well (128).

          Lauren made the decision to give birth to the child after some difficult forces tried to persuade her to do otherwise.  Not only was she urged to abort by Donnie; even the first thought of her two best friends was that she should get an abortion (25).  Even an abortion counselor tries to dissuade her against abortion for half an hour (36-7).  Her mother wants her to have an abortion (43-4).  Donnie’s parents wanted her to have an abortion (47).  When she left her house, planning to have an abortion, she simultaneously thought of the possibility of raising the child herself (53).  Lauren wonders if she was too far along in the pregnancy, “too late”, to have one performed (62).

          Fortunately, if it were not for the positive experience of meeting two poor mothers who decided to give birth to their babies instead of having abortions, Lauren could have been just another abortion statistic (56).  Liz, one of the two mothers who befriend her and with whom she stays after she left home, says Lauren “didn’t do anything wrong” and asserts Lauren’s right to keep the baby (69).  After a long interlude (the second “book” within the book) with the poor women Liz and Dawn, she attempts suicide by drowning (105).  After Lauren returns home, the reader learns she had been away a month.

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          As incredible as it sounds, coming so soon after her suicide attempt, Lauren’s parents (and Donnie’s parents) still want her to have an abortion (111-2).  What’s even more incredible is that Lauren falls in love with Donnie again (122-3).  Donnie is adamant, however, in not wanting their baby (123-4).  Donnie’s response to Lauren’s query–“how can you love me and not our baby?”–is matched by his saying that he feels forced into marriage (124).

          Eventually, Donnie loses the scholarship (143).  Although Lauren eventually decides to give the baby up for adoption, she does this because she has matured: she wants what’s best for the baby (156-7).  Moreover, it is suggested that Lauren, no longer an adolescent girl, has now found her own self, has become a woman (156).  This new mature attitude is manifested when she chastises her younger sister for engaging in premarital sex; Lauren reacts furiously, telling her sister that she should not engage in such behavior (151-2).

          A. M. Stephensen’s Unbirthday (1982) continues the trend of teen abortion novels whose characters have a definite pro-abortion bias.

Roman numeral I: the Teen Mother

          Although the teen mother in this novel and her boyfriend had used condoms “religiously” (8), Louisa Billingham discovers she is pregnant because her period is late (7).  Louisa describes herself in this largely first-person narrative as a girl who is “as popular as a python with acne” (14).  The opinion which she and Charlie have about sex is easy to summarize: they think sex should be for immediate gratification (22); she even mocks her parents’ cautions against engaging in sex and other rash behavior (26).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          Charlie does not seem to have any significant role in this novel except to engage in sex with Louisa and to crack frequent jokes.  In fact, the title of the novel can be found in one such joke: having an abortion is an “unbirthday” (82).  Driving her to the abortion, Charlie’s humor distracts Louisa from the reality of what she will do (89-90).  After she has her abortion, Charlie and Jane (see below) sing “happy unbirthday” to her (107).

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          Louisa ridicules books in her library which espouse a pro-maternal position (29).  Unlike other abortion novels, where images of babies are skewered so that the main character can see how bad it would be to be a mother, in this novel Louisa purposely denigrates the positive images of babies she comes across (51).

          Louisa ruminates over her abortion decision clandestinely.  The baby is “the biggest secret” in her life (53); she rejects and ridicules advice to tell her parents about the pregnancy (54-5).  Both she and Charlie think that abortion is the best solution to this untimely pregnancy; moreover, he suggests that they do not use the word “killing” to denote abortion since the baby is an “it” (56).

          Louisa’s secrecy is accomplished with help from a Women’s Center staffperson at a college in the area, significantly named Jane.  This affable feminist activist plays an important role in the novel.  She relates her own abortion episode to Louisa.  According to Jane, the word “abortion” is strictly negative and the alternative “termination of pregnancy” is to her even worse–an honest comment from such a strident feminist activist (63).  Jane describes the pre-Roe period as bad because women did not have the option of abortion (65).  Jane distorts the views of her pro-life mother (65-6).  She relates how she thought that she “could get help from Planned Parenthood” (72) and how euphoric she was over her abortion (72).  Jane’s narrative regarding her abortion ends with the phrase “The End” and seems to the reader as though the abortion is the same as a fairy tale or as innocent and simple as any piece of fiction (73).  It is shortly after this that Louisa decides on having an abortion (77-8).  The abortion itself is “secret”: the actions of the aspirator are described, not the actual killing (101).

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          Louisa herself says at first that there were no problems after the abortion.  She then qualifies that by saying that there may be one: Charlie resents her friendship with Jane.  After more narratorial thought, Louisa thinks that there might even be another: the secrecy involved regarding her abortion (108-9).  By the last lines of the novel, the reader can presume that her affection for Charlie is slipping as she becomes involved in feminist activism; she records that she is working against “a powerful local congressman” who is “one of the sponsors of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion” (112).

          The last one-line paragraph in the novel is one of those statements which proverbially speaks volumes in four words.  Speaking about the congressman she’s trying to unseat, Louisa says, “He says it’s immoral” (111-2).  Such a statement, being in third person, not only shows that Louisa has now distanced herself from moral and ethical statements, but also makes it seem that she herself can no longer argue the morality of abortion.

          Norma Klein’s Beginners’ Love (1983) is one of many novels which depicts the abortion decision from the unique perspective of the father.

Roman numeral I: the Teenaged Girl Becomes a Mother

          While the focus of this first-person novel is the hero’s reaction to his girlfriend’s pregnancy, the reactions of the young mother are reflected in the leading male character.  In fact, although the main character is a seventeen-year-old young man, when Joel thinks that he is in some way “being like Leda” (172), he may be voicing the projection of the lead female character through a male body.  [11]  Thus, for example, the attitude that Joel has toward diverse sexual matters is replicated in Leda.  Joel cannot withstand the temptation to masturbate; he does so at least three times in the novel not only while thinking about his girlfriend Leda, but another woman also (21, 112, 194).  Joel is masturbated another time by Leda (63); on another occasion, she oral sexes him (92-3).  When she notices that he is having an erection, Leda’s response of “Let’s just take our clothes off and get it over with” makes it seem as though sex is a chore for these young people, not a pastime of delight (125).  Joel’s attitude toward sex in general can be summarized in one maxim: he thinks girls want boys who are sexually experienced (35).  With such a sexual philosophy Joel finds nothing wrong with having sexual intercourse with Leda at least four times (88, 126, 143, and 162).

          Joel is ostensibly Jewish (46), although he affirms that he is not religious (78).  His best friend, Berger, who is also irreligious (104), makes snide comments about celibacy (133).

          Although Joel’s father discourages him from having sex with Leda (106), he asks Joel whether he is using birth control (130). Joel expresses some fear about their not using birth control (91), but it seems clear that the woman is supposed to be the one who is in charge of that.  It is only when Leda says that her period is late that she admits she hadn’t regularly used her diaphragm (142).  Joel, too, assumes some responsibility for the pregnancy, saying that he had some condoms that he “could have used” (144).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          Joel is certain that, if Leda is pregnant, she’ll “just get rid of it” (144).  Perhaps in reference to the anti-life feminist joke, Joel finds out by a father’s day card from Leda that he is a dad (172).  Joel accuses Leda of not having been “careful” (174). When asked, Joel thinks she should not have the baby (180).  Joel says “it’s better not to think about it” regarding the baby’s future (182).  Although he had never thought about babies before, Joel now sees them all over (155).

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          There is no anxiety over an abortion decision between the two young people.  Leda is shown on several occasions as having already made up her mind for abortion: she is adamant that, if she is pregnant, she will have an abortion (163) because, for her, “it was just a little clump of cells” that could become “a real baby” with the passage of time (180).  Perhaps one factor which led her to accept abortion–in a reversal of what most other male characters experience in other adolescent novels–Leda is accepted into Yale and being pregnant would prevent her from fulfilling her educational career (176).

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          When Leda has her abortion, the other mothers in the abortion clinic look dejected, even though many of them, as in Leda’s case with Joel, have their boyfriends or the fathers of the babies with them (197).  After the abortion, Leda wants to “celebrate” (203). However, when she and Joel invited another brother-and-sister couple from the abortion clinic over her apartment to smoke some marijuana, almost immediately into the celebration she cries over “our babies” (205).  Leda’s plaintive “we’re all going to be fine” spoken almost immediately after her breakdown over the aborted babies sounds too similar to the famous lines from Hemingway’s story (205).  Just as saying “fine” for Jig meant the opposite, for Leda, it can be argued that matters will not be satisfactory for her.

          As the novel reaches its denouement, Leda’s and Joel’s relationship deteriorates after the abortion (207).  They grow apart, especially after he goes off to a Texas college (209).  The novel ends with a group of characters wanting to see the film “Endless Love”.  This was the film which Joel and his best friend saw when they double dated and Joel first met Leda.  Joel’s final comment about seeing the movie is telling, symbolic as it is of the main characters’ now broken relationship: “I saw it already” (216).

          From this point on in the paper, I will depart from one of my necessary criteria to analyze three teen novels which show a growing concern not so much for abortion in contemporary teen fiction, but how a mother or her lover, the father of the child, react to the mother’s decision choosing life over abortion for the unborn child.

          Colby F. Rodowsky’s Lucy Peale (1992), chronologically the first in this new set, is a unique departure from most adolescent fiction.  While this novel may depict a lead female character who is responsible for her act of fornication, the culpability is lessened by two factors: Lucy Peale’s father is an ultra-strict fundamentalist Christian who wants his recently-graduated from high school daughter to confess her sin publicly at a revival; secondly, the boy who impregnates her is depicted as one who forced his will on her.  Instead of confessing her sin, she runs away (26) and eventually meets another young man, Jake, who harbors her in his apartment, cares for her food and clothing needs, and, most importantly, does not take sexual advantage of the young woman who just happened to come across his path.  Jake is a very respectful young man who wants to reserve his sexual powers for marriage with his ideal woman.  If this novel merges with the genre of a romance, then Lucy Peale is both a novel depicting the lives of two tortured young people caught up in teen pregnancy and simultaneously a novel of mature romance.

Roman numeral I: the Teen Mother

          In retrospect, Lucy recalls how she became pregnant.  Wanting to get out of her father’s stifling environment, Lucy meets a gang of young men which includes Phil, the father of her future child by one act of sexual intercourse (35).  She discovers she is pregnant when she vomits from morning sickness (7).  When she decides to run away to avoid confessing her sin in public, Lucy realizes that her father is not going to come after her to bring her back home (31).

          Lucy’s ambivalent thoughts and low self-esteem are detailed in a series of uncomplimentary similes: her thoughts are “like fiddler crabs” (37) or “like burrs on a dog’s ear” (43).  Other girls whom she sees walking with confidence are “like flies on sticky paper” (39).  Lucy is immature and cannot function socially (41).  The reader presumes she is seventeen-years-old since she graduated from high school “this year” (69).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          Jake, her boyfriend, is a former college man (59).  Although he has numerous classic books scattered all over his typically-messy bachelor apartment (61), he found working on the beach more interesting than college.  He is not to be considered a beach bum, however; his ambition is to be an assistant to a British author, Adrian Blair, who will be a writer-in-residence at Johns Hopkins (68).

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          Lucy’s father is an evangelist who calls her baby a “sin”; she retorts “my baby’s no sin” (11).  She doesn’t want “to get rid of it” (77).  Much later in the novel, there is a curious reference to the baby as an “it”, but in a humanizing way (116).  When the baby kicks, Lucy then “knew” that she was carrying a child (96-7).  Lucy says she can’t think of the baby as an “it” after she and Jake discuss things about their life together (116-8).  More importantly, Jake provides the necessary moral support for Lucy by reacting happily to news of the baby’s quickening (98-9).  Unlike most other teen abortion novels, Lucy experiences a pleasant encounter with some children (87-9).  She hopes to marry Jake and be happy with him forever.

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          If the abortion portion of the novel seems resolved [Lucy will not have an abortion and Jake and she seem to be the “perfect couple”–they even argue as agreeably as married people do (100-3)], then the problem for the reader over the final sixty pages is to consider whether they can succeed in their ambitions.  Fortunately, and, once again, unlike most other teen abortion novels, Lucy and Jake are genuinely religious (94-5).  Even though Lucy comes from a family which distorts Christian ideals, they both want the baby to know about God (118).  Their “living together” is asexual (100).  When Lucy gets into bed with him one night, thinking that the only way she can repay him for his kindness is to offer him what her rapist, the father of her child, took from her, Jake jumps out (106).  Sex “counts for too much” for Jake, he tells her (115).  Jake considers the baby his (107), he wants to marry her, and (putting most men to shame) he is a perfectly romantic young man (108).

          This happiness, which may seem saccharine to most jaundiced readers, is too much for Lucy, however: she plans to leave him so that he would not be burdened with a wife and a baby as he pursues his chance at working for Blair (110, 148-9).  Just when it seems this incredibly-happy resolution would fall apart, at the end of the novel, like a deus ex machina, Lucy’s sister Doris leaves her strict family and decides to help with the baby (162).  Jake goes to Baltimore to be assistant to Blair.  In short, what one would never find in most teen abortion novels, this story ends happy.  The final statement (“it’s going to be okay”) conveys none of the ambiguity or despair found in novels where the mother has aborted (164-7).

          Marilyn Reynolds achieved success not only with her print version of Too Soon for Jeff (1994), but also with the made-for-television film adaptation of the novel as well as her Hamilton High series of stories for teens.  [12]  Like other novels of the early 1990s, this one reflects the anxieties of the father of the child.  In a first-person narrative, Jeff Browning relates his experiences with the pregnancy of his lover.  Jeff is a seventeen-year-old who has an excellent chance not only at winning his high school’s debate competition but also a scholarship to a university when he discovers that he is a father.

Roman numeral I: the Teen Mother

          Christy Calderon, a Mexican-American (35), is Jeff’s lover.  Although she is depicted as having had a Catholic grade school background (Jeff for some reason laughs when he first hears this fact) (40), Christy is as irreligious as Jeff.  Jeff is halfway between being an atheist and being a believer (73).  All we know about Christy at the beginning of the novel is that, when she announces her pregnancy to Jeff, she is happy about the baby (13-4).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          Jeff’s reaction to the pregnancy should be understood in the context of his sexual understanding.  He is not a virgin (10); presumably, he had used condoms with Christy (16).  His mother, who is studying to be a nurse, had talked with him about condoms (17).  Jeff’s father had abandoned him and his mother when he was little (18).  He is unable to control his sexual impulses and masturbates thinking about Christy (45-6).  Jeff was enrolled at a human sexuality class at Planned Parenthood (57).  Jeff reports that his friend Jeremy says that abstinence “is the wave of the future” (183).  Lest this can be interpreted into a statement that he has learned from his sexually explicit ways and will reserve his sexual powers for marriage, the reader is immediately hit with a qualification of this fact of abstinence history: Jeff couches it in negative connotation, specifically saying that his friend “may be telling the truth about virginity, or he may be following another of his old-fashioned codes…” (183).  Even after his experience with Christy, when he eventually goes out of state to college, Jeff meets another young woman, for whom he buys condoms, and with whom he has sex at least three times (198, 200-1, and 212).

          With this type of sexual background, it should be no surprise that Jeff is angry at the baby.  He accuses Christy of being lapse about birth control (14); he wants her to have an abortion (15).  Even though his mother says that abortion “makes sense” to her (57), Christy calls Jeff a “baby killer” (63).

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          At one point, while Jeff wonders if it is too late for an abortion (36), Christy is adamant that she will not abort, saying “It’s my body, it’s my choice, and I choose NO ABORTION!” (36).  Eventually, Jeff wins the debate competition for his high school and is accepted into a Texas university later that fall (112).  Jeff later learns that Christy has given birth to a son (145) whom he later calls “my son” (160).  Jeff’s father, however, urges him to disavow anything to do with the child, viewing the pregnancy as a trap on the part of Christy (165).

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          Although Jeff and Christy go their separate ways at the novel’s conclusion, Jeff ends the novel with a limp paternal directive: he tells his newborn son not to have sex without a condom (222).

          Sheila Cole’s What Kind of Love? The Diary of a Pregnant Teenager (1995) follows a category of teen fiction which depicts the anxieties of teen mothers who have exercised their reproductive rights by choosing to give birth to their unborn babies.  [13]

Roman numeral I: the Teen Mother

          Valerie is a fifteen-year-old who describes her sexual relations with her lover Peter early in the novel (7-9).  Even though she immediately thought of “protection” because she wanted to have sex with Peter (22), Valerie discovers she’s pregnant (36).

Roman numeral II: the Father’s Reaction

          Since he is Harvard or Stanford bound (27), Peter suggests she has “to do something” (40).  Several pages later it is clear what he wants her to do: ask about abortion at Planned Parenthood (44).  Because of perceived time limits on abortion, Peter blames Valerie for waiting so long (57).  When Peter proposes marriage to her, the unborn child who was called an “it” suddenly becomes “Our Baby” (61).  While Valerie progresses in the pregnancy, Peter advances toward his college goals (140).  Eventually, Peter reneges on promise to marry her (170).

Roman numeral III: the Mother’s Decision

          Valerie is confronted with an image of a sixteen-year-old girl carrying a baby (43).  She calls the baby an “it” (46).  Valerie assumes Planned Parenthood is the place to go for birth control (48).  Since she’s four months pregnant, abortion must be done in hospital; it would cost her more (52-4).  Her parents want her to abort (68).  Peter’s and Valerie’s elopement wedding plans are halted (83-4).  Despite an ultrasound which she has had which enables her to bond with her baby (91-2), Valerie calls the baby an “it” (103) or “this thing growing inside me” (107).  The unborn child is dehumanized with a direct simile: he or she is “like an alien invader” (112).  Eventually, while she calls the baby an “it”, Valerie is able to humanize the child in a direct metaphor which culminates in her first positive emotional statement for the child: he or she is a “little astronaut floating inside…I love you” (127).

Roman numeral IV: Possible Outcomes of Decision

          Although she had hoped for marriage and a happier resolution of the problems of parenthood, Valerie, seeing that Peter is more interested in his college career than his fatherhood, renounces him and decides to offer the baby for adoption (190-2).

IV.  Critical Evaluation and Pedagogic Responses:

Attacking the Paradigm

          Now that several works have been scanned for paradigmatic elements, it may be helpful to consolidate some general criticism before engaging in a pedagogic response.  First, it should be noted that adolescent fiction on abortion in the 1960s seemed to be “masked” or, better yet, “encased” in a larger, more comprehensive plot which involves the adult characters of the novel.  For example, Romulus Linney’s 1965 novel Slowly, by Thy Hand Unfurled depicts the anguish of a mother who comes to realize two brutal truths: first, that her daughter had an abortion and died of it; and second, the daughter seems to have had the abortion at the mother’s insistence.  Similarly, the concerns of Carla, the young mother who seeks an abortion in Violet Weingarten’s 1967 novel Mrs. Beneker, occupy only a small portion of the plot.  Even though 1967 is a decisive year in abortion history in the United States, the more dominant concern in the novel is a feminist one: the emergence of Lila Beneker, who in her middle age is finally developing her talents as a liberated woman.

          The situation is similar in another novel in this pre-Roe period, B. J. Chute’s The Story of a Small Life (1971).  Richard Harris, the narrator, is more concerned not so much that a seventeen-year-old young man whom he admires gets his girlfriend an abortion as he is concerned that the young man get out of the ghetto.  Even though abortion permeates this novel, the function of the narrator is clear: he is distant from the actors in the abortion subplot; the novel is his spiritual quest, at which, of course, he dismally fails.  [14]

          A period of less than a decade spans the earliest of the novels I have read before abortion was legalized in the United States throughout the nine months of pregnancy.  Adolescent novels in the years immediately preceding and following Roe were strong in their support for abortion; this pro-abortion bias continued until decade’s end.  Although an uncomfortable decision for teen mothers, abortion is never questioned as an inappropriate course of action in Gunnel Beckman’s 1973 novel Mia Alone.  Jeannette Eyerly’s 1972 novel Bonnie Jo, Go Home is perhaps the most hostile account of a mother who wants to abort.  Abortion is the social-worker’s cure for the poverty and apparent hopelessness of the African-American lead character in Rosa Guy’s 1978 novel Edith Jackson.

          And yet, despite the stridency of some of the characters in firmly pro-abortion novels, the 1970s can boast of a life-affirming trend as well. Evelyn Minshull’s 1976 novel But I Thought You Really Loved Me is one of many novels which explore the situation of a young mother who has decided to give birth to her baby.  Korie, who is not a sexually-promiscuous young woman, happened to fall for the very attractive Ron who impregnated her. When Ron not only rejects the baby but also rejects her, Korie turns to the people who love her the most: her family.

          The theme of mothers who return to the safety of their families after the difficult experience of being rejected in love (and maybe even abandoned by their lovers as in Korie’s case) continues throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.  These novels show a growing trend toward the principle that abortion is a negative solution to an untimely pregnancy.  According to Jane S. Bakerman and Mary Jean DeMarr, who studied adolescent fiction in the two decades from 1961-1981, some fiction began this life-affirming trend in the late 1970s.  Joyce Carol Oates’ 1978 novel, Son of the Morning, depicts a teen mother who wants to keep her baby after her lover abandons her.  They also categorize Joyce Maynard’s 1981 novel Baby Love as a novel about teen mothers who want to keep their babies.

          A new trend developed in the 1990s, however, that proved not only commercially acceptable, but (an even prior proposition) appealing to the mass of the teen reading audience: the role and reaction of the unwed father to an untimely pregnancy.  This decade saw a variety of fictional accounts of young teen fathers who may at first have been strongly unwilling to have anything to do with their unborn children but who ultimately become their born children’s best defenders.  Such is the case in Marilyn Reynolds’ 1994 novel Too Soon for Jeff.

          This trend toward the father’s view of life-affirming options may indicate that abortion itself as subject matter may be submerging itself under a more prominent one, just as it was a subordinate issue for fiction in the 1960s.  The interest in abortion as a prime factor in the plot is waning even more significantly against fiction with an emerging life-affirming theme.  Norma Klein’s 1988 novel No More Saturday Nights may be one of the earliest novels to connect the dramatic tension of an unwed teen father and the trend to look beyond abortion as a dilemma which seems unsurmountable.  The bibliographic summary for this novel reads:

                    A seventeen‑year‑old unmarried father wins the rights to custody of his son in court; goes off to college in New York City, where he finds an apartment with three girls as roommates; and improves his relationship with his own father, always knowing his baby is the most important thing in his life.

Terry Farish’s 1990 novel Shelter for a Seabird is summarized in its bibliographic record as: “At a time when her stern father seems determined to sell the island home where her family has lived for generations, sixteen‑year‑old Andrea is swept into a doomed romance with a nineteen‑year‑old AWOL soldier”.  Kimberly M. Ballard’s 1991 novel Light at Summer’s End is concerned not with an abortion decision to be made by the fourteen-year-old lead character, but by the decision to abort which her mother made.  Ballard’s novel shows how excruciating the abortion decision is for other persons involved: siblings, the father of the child, and grandparents.  [15]  Berlie Doherty’s 1992 novel Dear Nobody is summarized as a story where “Eighteen‑year‑old Chris struggles to deal with two shocks that have changed his life, his meeting the mother who left him and his father when he was ten and his discovery that he has gotten his girlfriend pregnant”.  Another 1992 novel, Geraldine Kaye’s Someone Else’s Baby, makes it clear that abortion for the young mother involved is not a serious option; deciding whether to keep the baby or not is the real concern: “Seventeen‑year‑old Terry, single and pregnant, decides to keep a journal to help herself come to terms with an unhappy homelife and poor self‑image as she tries to decide whether or not to keep her baby”.  This is also the case in Marilyn Reynolds’ 1993 novel Detour for Emmy, which is summarized as an exploration of a young mother of a child already born: “Emmy, whose future had once looked so bright, struggles to overcome the isolation and depression brought about by being a teen mother who gets little support from her family or the father of her child”.  [16]  C. B. Christiansen’s 1994 collection of short stories, I See the Moon, is summarized in its bibliographic record thus: “Twelve‑year‑old Bitte learns the answer to the question, `What is love?’ when her older sister decides to place her unborn child for adoption”.  Abortion as an issue is certainly of secondary importance in Doran Larsen’s 1997 novel Marginalia, which is primarily concerned with abused children and adolescents in the Buffalo area.  The latest contribution to the body of adolescent abortion fiction is James Wilcox’ 1998 novel Plain and Normal, which seems to merge the popular fascination with homosexual and lesbian issues with the plight of teens dealing with untimely pregnancy.  It is obvious, however, that the issues which were once most characteristic of teen fiction (untimely pregnancy or serious thoughts about abortion) are relegated in this novel to the exploits of homosexual men in Manhattan and in an imaginary place in Louisiana.

          After having gone through several key works of teen abortion fiction, it may be helpful to demonstrate how one can attack the legitimacy of the paradigm as used as a template for such fiction. Just because an author may adapt his or her story to such a tight outline does not mean that the outline itself is beyond question. In fact, it is our duty to attack it to demonstrate that abortion novels need not follow such a pro-abortion bias.  If we are in the business of encouraging our students to think positively about life, to surmount whatever problems are thrown their way, and to encourage them to become fully human, then we must guide them in the dissolution of some of the nastier elements of the outline.  It is our task to demonstrate to our students that sometimes the fiction which they have read can be severely questioned–as strongly as anti-lifers would question the value of human life.  Therefore, I would like to offer some “speed bumps” to help our students understand that they need not necessarily adopt the elements of this paradigm as a contemporary decalogue to guide their reading or their lives.

          One counter to the validity of the outline is to ask students why an irreligious attitude seems necessary for modern life.  Why are so many characters not so much seemingly tolerant of others’ religion, but openly anti-religion?  More acutely, why are Roman Catholics so reviled in contemporary teen fiction on abortion?  [17] Joan in Grau’s The House on Coliseum Street is a lapsed Catholic (8).  When she arrives at the abortion clinic, strongly anti-life Bonnie in Eyerly’s Bonnie Jo, Go Home is suspicious that the cab driver is Catholic (26).  Bonnie has a supposedly Catholic friend who helps to arrange the abortion for her (59).  Leda, the heroine in Klein’s Beginners’ Love, and her friend dress up as nuns in one episode, only to mock them (114-5).  Christy, the mother in Reynolds’ Too Soon for Jeff who is later shown to be manipulative, had a Catholic grade school background (40).  This is the same young woman who yells at her father that “All you care about is what your stupid old church says!” (64).

          A review of sexuality can assault the integrity of the outline as well.  What is sex?  It might be helpful to encourage students to discuss whether they truly believe in the merely secular rendition of the definition.  If a secular view of the term is accepted among today’s students, then it can be pointed out that the characters in these novels demonstrate how sex which was perceived as something purely stimulus-driven and seemingly beautiful between a young man and a young woman can become selfish and demeaning.

          Moreover, why should a young person immediately think of Planned Parenthood when discussing birth control and abortion?  Planned Parenthood immediately comes to Peter’s mind when he suggests abortion of his child in Cole’s What Kind of Love? The Diary of a Pregnant Teenager (44); the mother of his child, Valerie, assumes Planned Parenthood is the place to go for birth control (48).  [18]  The lead character in Eyerly’s Bonnie Jo, Go Home sees a child in a baby stroller with a “Planned Parenthood” sticker written across it (6).  On hearing that his girlfriend is pregnant, Donnie in Luger’s Lauren commands her to go to Planned Parenthood (19).  The Women’s Center staffperson in A. M. Stephensen’s Unbirthday who relates her own abortion experience to the protagonist of the novel automatically thought that she “could get help from Planned Parenthood” (72).  Jeff’s inability to control his sexual promiscuity in Reynolds’ Too Soon for Jeff can perhaps be attributed to the fact that he was enrolled at a human sexuality class at Planned Parenthood (57).

          Where are the abstinence courses and programs?  Where’s Birthright?  Where are any of the crisis pregnancy support groups around the country that have served the maternal, legal, and financial needs of mothers with untimely pregnancies since before the Roe decision?  Why don’t these pregnancy-support groups appear in teen abortion fiction?  And, in true Marxist literary critical fashion, if they do not appear, then students should examine why they do not.  Their absence may be evidence of the oppressive power of an anti-life feminist distortion of matriarchy.

          The outline can be attacked from a feminist viewpoint in another manner also.  If today’s young woman is truly a feminist as society supposedly makes her to be, then she should assert her right over the father’s noncompliance with her choice to give birth.

          Some feminist writers argue that such teen fiction liberates teens–female teens, especially, of course, since female teenagers are women in an expansive denotative and connotative definition of “woman”.  Proposing an alternative feminist view is not only politically-incorrect in today’s academic world, but also revolutionary since the standard party-line feminist thinking is that sexuality liberates pure and simple; there is no discussion of the responsibilities which go along with sexual rights.  These feminist writers are absolutely positive that teen sexuality has solely empowering tendencies whose primary function is to overcome the much-aligned and difficult-to-define term “patriarchy”.  [19]  What does this really mean, however?  Does it mean that party-line feminist thinking is so deeply entrenched in a view of sexuality that it obscures the fact that sometimes young women who engage in sexual activity face certain “dire consequences” of a failed sexual interest when the boyfriend leaves her when she’s pregnant? Does it mean that the party-line feminist thinking is blind to the presence of a third party–the unborn child–who often is sacrificed as the teen sexual partners debate how they should live the rest of their lives?  Could it also mean that party-line feminist thinking is bankrupt–as is the fiction which embodies such thinking–and that readers must therefore turn to creative authors like Ballard, Cole, Luger, Minshull, and Rodowsky who provide that alternative feminist envisioning?

          More importantly, for purposes of examining the fourth Roman numeral in the classroom, students should be asked about the relative merits of each of the two outcomes.  The first outcome is clearly the result of a bad choice.  Abortion–despite any of its linguistic masks as “freedom of choice” or “pregnancy termination” or the exercise of a tenuous “right to choose”–still is absolutely negative.  It is significant that none of the teen novels which end with the mother aborting the child end “happy”–not the saccharine kind of happiness of a gushy romance novel, but aesthetically pleasing in the sense that fiction which involves romance between two teen partners should end resolved in the love between the partners, not in ambiguity.  The novels which end in abortion end in loss of romance, loss of individual strength for the mother, and loss of certainty.  Of course, no student would object to the pleasing ending of a life born and a young woman who, in true feminist fashion–matures to adulthood when she makes the best choice for herself and her child.

          I began this paper with sample opening sentences from particular genres.  Maybe the dominant feature of adolescent fiction on abortion is best characterized by the ending statements.  If an adolescent abortion novel ends in the killing of the unborn child, then the ending would be as sad as that in Eyerly’s Bonnie Jo, Go Home: “Leaving New York eleven days after she had arrived, her face seemed to have aged a year for every day she had been there” (114) or as ambiguous as the ending in Klein’s Beginners’ Love: “I saw it already” (216).  If, however, the adolescent abortion novel ends with a life-affirming statement, then that which ends Rodowsky’s Lucy Peale may have already set the standard for what a young mother with low self-esteem can do in her life and that of her unborn child:

                   I’m ready now, and I’ll go and get Doris and she’ll come home with me and we’ll put my stuff in the bedroom, where the crib’s already set up, and her stuff in the living room, and then maybe we’ll go out and I’ll show her the library and the laundromat and what the beach’s like in wintertime.

                             I’ll go now and this time I’ll drive right up to the house, only Pa won’t be there, ’cause Doris said he had to see a man over Salisbury way.  But Ma’ll be there and maybe she’ll come out.  Or maybe I’ll get brave and go inside and see Warren and Liddy and where I used to live, and even that moldy old parrot.

                   And maybe I’ll get to see the quilt.  The one Ma’s making for the baby.

                             And as far as the rest–everything else–it’s going to be okay.  One way or another, it’s going to be okay.  (166-7)

                                                     Works Cited

Bakerman, Jane S., and Mary Jean DeMarr. Adolescent Female Portraits in the American Novel, 1961‑1981. New York: Garland, 1983.

Ballard, Kimberly M. Light at Summer’s End. Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw, 1991.

Beckman, Gunnel. Mia Alone. Trans. Joan Tate. New York, Viking, 1974. Trans. of Tre veckor over tiden. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Forlag, 1973.

Christiansen, C. B. I See the Moon. New York: Atheneum, 1994. Electronic. Cuyahoga County Public Lib., OH. 3 May 1999.

Chute, B. J. The Story of a Small Life. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1971.

Cole, Sheila. What Kind of Love? The Diary of a Pregnant Teenager. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1995.

Doherty, Berlie. Dear Nobody. New York: Orchard Books, 1992. Electronic. Cuyahoga County Public Lib., OH. 3 May 1999.

Doty, Carolyn. A Day Late. New York: Viking, 1980.

Eyerly, Jeannette. Bonnie Jo, Go Home. New York: Bantam, 1972.

Farish, Terry. Shelter for a Seabird. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1990. Electronic. Cuyahoga County Public Lib., OH. 3 May 1999.

Faulkner, William. The Wild Palms. New York: Random House, 1939.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender Is the Night. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934.

Grau, Shirley Ann. The House on Coliseum Street. New York: Knopf, 1961.

Guy, Rosa. Edith Jackson. New York: Viking, 1978.

Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” Literature and the Writing Process. 5th ed. Eds. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999. 321-4.

Herald, Diana Tixier. Teen Genreflecting. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1997.

Hirsch, E. D. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

Kaye, Geraldine. Someone Else’s Baby. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 1992. Electronic. Cuyahoga County Public Lib., OH. 3 May 1999.

Klein, Norma. Beginners’ Love. New York: Hillside Books/E.P. Dutton, 1983.

—. No More Saturday Nights. New York: Knopf, 1988. Electronic. Cuyahoga County Public Lib., OH. 3 May 1999.

Larsen, Doran. Marginalia. Sag Harbor, NY: Permanent Press, 1997. Electronic. Cuyahoga County Public Lib., OH. 3 May 1999.

Lee, Joanne. I Want to Keep My Baby. New York: NAL, 1977.

Linney, Romulus. Slowly, by Thy Hand Unfurled. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

Luger, Harriett. Lauren. New York: Viking, 1979.

Madison, Winifred. Growing Up in a Hurry. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.

Maynard, Joyce. Baby Love. New York: Knopf, 1981.

Minshull, Evelyn. But I Thought You Really Loved Me. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976.

Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray, eds. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Oates, Joyce Carol. Son of the Morning. New York: Vanguard, 1978.

Ramsdell, Kristin. Happily Ever After: a Guide to Reading Interests in Romance Fiction. Littleton, CO: 1987.

Renner, Stanley. “Moving to the Girl’s Side of `Hills Like White Elephants’.” The Hemingway Review 15:1 (1995):27‑41.

Reynolds, Marilyn. Beyond Dreams: True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High. Buena Park, CA: Morning Glory, 1995.

—. Detour for Emmy. Buena Park, CA: Morning Glory, 1993. Electronic. Cuyahoga County Public Lib., OH. 3 May 1999.

—. Too Soon for Jeff. Buena Park, CA: Morning Glory, 1994.

Rodowsky, Colby. Lucy Peale. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992.

Rossner, Judith. Emmeline. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Spencer, Pam. What Do Young Adults Read Next? A Reader’s Guide to Fiction for Young Adults. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1997.

Stephensen, A. M. Unbirthday. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Sutherland, Zena. Children & Books. 9th ed. New York: Longman, 1997.

Too Soon for Jeff. By Marilyn Reynolds. Perf. Freddie Prinze, Jr., and Jessica Alba. 1994. Videocassette. Films for the Humanities, 1996.

Tolman, Deborah L. “Doing Desire: Adolescent Girls’ Struggles for/with Sexuality.” Through the Prism of Difference: Readings on Sex and Gender. Eds. Maxine Baca Zinn, Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, and Michael A. Messner. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997. 173-85.

Weingarten, Violet. Mrs. Beneker. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967.

Wilcox, James. Plain and Normal. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. Electronic. Cuyahoga County Public Lib., OH. 3 May 1999.


    [1]  With language as similarly connotative as mine, the more scholarly literary critics Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray corroborate my extemporaneous definition when they define the Gothic novel as:

                        a romance typically written as a long prose horror narrative that exhibits the Gothic qualities of doom and gloom as well as an emphasis on chivalry and magic.  Dark, mysterious medieval castles chock full of secret passageways and (apparently) supernatural phenomena are common elements used to thrill the reader.  Gothic heroes and heroines tend to be equally mysterious, with dark histories and secrets of their own.  The Gothic hero is typically a man known more for his power and his charisma than for his personal goodness; the Gothic heroine’s challenge is to win his love without being destroyed in the process.  (149)

    [2]  That is, with all due respect to the (young?) man, Fabio before his aviary mishap.

    [3]  Again, Ross and Ray record the contemporary understanding of the romance novel not only as “a fictional account of passionate love prevailing against social, economic, or psychological odds, but any plot that revolves around love” (346).

    [4]  However, this conclusion was not the final one reached by the disproportionately large number of students who found this story so interesting that they culminated their final research project on an analysis of this short story.  Apparently, this story is resilient enough to withstand a feminist literary critical attack as much as it is malleable to a biographical or a masculinist interpretation.  What is most surprising is that many students were able to discover in the course of their research Stanley Renner’s fine critical article, which argues that, since the characters do not explicitly suggest that the abortion is definitely going to occur, an easy anti-life extrapolation of the plot of the story may be faulty–a position which refutes most students’ initial reading of the story.

            I would also like to point out that I presume that at least one student was painfully aware of the message of the story.  It was difficult for me during one class to press on with an explication of the story when one young woman became visibly upset while discussing it–to the point of needing to leave the room for the balance of the class time, a full forty minutes.  Granted, this is a subjective comment on my part and the student herself did not confide anything to me.  Unfortunately, however, we who are faculty can often gauge whether a student who becomes distressed over this one story and not others which might be more graphic, more sexual, or more politically-charged may have had an abortion and is now suffering the emotional symptoms of post-abortion syndrome.

    [5]  See especially his commentary on SAT scores (4-5) and the lack of “shared information” in American education (19-25).

    [6]  Sometimes, even the library community may not be helpful in collating titles on the subject of abortion.  Abortion as a subject entry does not appear in Spencer’s massive 692-page bibliographic compendium What Do Young Adults Read Next? A Reader’s Guide to Fiction for Young Adults (Detroit: Gale, 1997). Many authors who are considered in this paper, however, are featured as are other titles which they have written.

    [7]  Of course, I am aware that only a fraction of the total number of teens who are eligible to vote do so and that this lack of civic pride in electing quality candidates will remain at a plurality level when the teens become young adults in their twenties.  After all, this is the decade when the United States elected someone as president on a plurality vote not once, but twice in the span of four years.

    [8]  In the course of my reading I discovered two intertextual references to schemes or paradigms of teen abortion fiction.  Both passages ridicule the simplistic plot development of such fiction. The first passage, from A. M. Stephensen’s Unbirthday (1982), has the main character recount her analysis of the teen abortion fiction she has read when she herself must decide whether or not to have an abortion:

                        “I thought back on stories I’d read.  The ones I could remember were always about a girl who lost her head in the heat of passion and went all the way with some guy in the backseat of a car.  Usually at a drive-in.  Usually with a guy she really didn’t give a damn about.  Always without a contraceptive.  And–surprise!–she got pregnant.

                                    “Then she had the baby.  If she married the guy, she’d end up staying home, cooking supper, washing bottles, changing diapers, and waiting for her husband to return from a long day pumping gas, after which he’d take out his frustrations on her and the kid.  Or if she didn’t get married, she’d leave school and put the tyke up for adoption, and since she was known to one and all as a `bad girl,’ she’d move to another part of town and after much effort find a dead-end job answering phones or selling shoes.  Once in a while, she’d keep the baby.  Then she’d move in with her alcoholic mother and, after trying valiantly to support her child, end up on welfare.  And whiskey.

                                    “There was only one book I could remember where a girl got an abortion.  It was so badly botched she ended up puking blood all over the upholstery of her boyfriend’s car on the way home, and when she got into her house and puked more blood on the rug before collapsing to the floor, her exceptionally swift parents suddenly realized what was going on and virtually disowned her.”  (51-2)

            Another passage, in Norma Klein’s Beginners’ Love (1983), similarly reduces the simplistic plots of most teen abortion novels to set patterns.  The lead female character in Klein’s novel comments about teen abortion novels with her boyfriend, suggesting that a standard set of steps in plot development has made the classification trite:

                        “God, don’t you hate those books for teen-agers where they have to get married and she drops out of school and they live over a garage and he works in some used car lot.  And there’s always some scene where some girl who had an abortion comes to visit and she’s gone insane and becomes a Bowery bum, just in case you didn’t get the point.”

                                    “I never read a book like that,” I said.

                                    “You’re lucky….  Every other book I’ve read since I was ten is like that.  The girl’s a moron, the guy’s a moron, they never heard of birth control.  What I love are the scenes where the father takes the guy aside and says, `Son, if you marry Betsy, you’ll have to give up your football scholarship to Oklahoma State.’  They’re always going to some godforsaken place like Oklahoma State!  And the guy says, `But, Dad, I love her!’…  And then there’s a scene where the mother says, `Dear, you haven’t let him take advantage of you?  You know what boys are like.’  Quote unquote….  God, I think writers must be really dumb!  Or else they’re living in the Stone Age.”  (163-4)

    [9]  In the printed form of this paper, I will use the headers just mentioned to collate data from the novels.

    [10]  The argument that a pregnancy is better described as “untimely” instead of being a “problem” is more accurate in its specificity at least in the literary sense.  The novels I have considered show that the pregnancies which result from faulty or non-existent contraception or a hedonistic view towards sexuality are not problems to the young people involved.  The characters do not so much doubt the existence of the human entity over whose life they think they have jurisdiction, but rather are much more concerned with how to continue their lifestyles–their educational choices, their career choices, and their romantic or sexual choices.  The term “difficult” when used to refer to pregnancy, seems more proper when used in medical contexts.

    [11]  The study of transgendered characterizations may be helpful here, especially in the emerging branches of gender criticism called masculinist and queer theory.

    [12]  Interested persons may be interested in her Beyond Dreams: True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High (1995).  Moreover, they may find the performances of Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Jessica Alba in the video adaptation of the novel under analysis convincing.

    [13]  Bakerman and DeMarr have identified other titles which fall into this category of fiction written from the perspective of the mother who wants to give birth to her baby.  Readers may be interested in the following: I Want to Keep My Baby (1977) by Joanna Lee (92-3); Son of the Morning (1978) by Joyce Carol Oates (125); Emmeline (1980) by Judith Rossner (155); and Baby Love (1981) by Joyce Maynard (107).

    [14]  The situation of an abortion subplot in a larger adult-theme work does not dissolve after Roe, of course.  Carolyn Doty’s 1980 novel A Day Late uses the stereotype of a seventeen-year-old pregnant runaway to reflect (and deflect) the middle-aged crisis of Sam the protagonist.  A traveling salesman, Sam finds the youth of Katy, the mother, disturbing to the point that he becomes violent against her and the young man who had befriended her.  He also becomes violent against himself by spending a night with a whore.  The climax in the novel is not abortion-related at all: Sam “finds himself” by engaging in a male-bonding dance with his Greek friend.  The denouement, however, does return to the abortion subplot: Katy miscarries a malformed unborn child; this is considered “a blessing” (230).

    [15]  Ballard is one of the bold breed of writers who are clearly identified with the pro-life movement.  More importantly from a literary standpoint, her novel is not preachy or didactic which some critics of evangelical and pro-life fiction have claimed are dominant characteristics of such life-affirming material.  While there certainly are titles which are preachy if not hostile to religious diversity, Ballard’s book contains a few pages (by my estimation three) where one of the main characters, an elderly woman named Vellie, summarizes Christian principles for the other main character, fourteen-year-old Melissa (138-40).  It would be interesting to see how anti-life critics or critics hostile to evangelical or pro-life fiction would evaluate the final chapter of the book.  Melissa suggests holding a “service” for the aborted child which seems more pagan in liturgical setting than Christian: the service is to be conducted at dawn in the woods and, while she expresses her anger and sorrow, Melissa moves stones in certain formations (143-7).  Is this Wicca practice or Christian didacticism?  Perhaps this is the author’s intent: to frustrate those critics who would categorize her novel as merely “one of those” pro-life books.

    [16]  In fact, one could even argue that the title signals to the reader (the teen in the public library or the school library or in the bookstore) that the option of abortion is never entertained seriously: if unwed motherhood were so disastrous for the teen heroine, then it would be metaphorically described as a “halt” in her life, not a “detour”, which connotatively implies that, while one option has been closed, another option is available.

    [17]  At least one religious reference is nondenominational.  Mia in Beckman’s Mia Alone contrasts “the Christian’s talk” about sanctity of human life in contrast to her family’s ethics (106).

    [18]  Whatever her personal position regarding this abortion organization, the author is fair when she thanks “the staff of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties” among others “for their help in understanding what it is like to be young and pregnant” (Cole; opposite title page).

    [19]  Consider the following analysis of interviews of teen girls’ regarding sex and related issues:

                        To be able to know their sexual feelings, to listen when their bodies speak about themselves and about their relationships, might enable these and other girls to identify and know more clearly the sources of oppression that press on their full personhood and their capacity for knowledge, joy, and connection….  Asking these girls to speak abut sexual desire, and listening and responding to their answers and also to their questions, proved to be an effective way to interrupt the standard “dire consequences” discourse adults usually employ when speaking at all to girls about their sexuality.  Knowing and speaking about the ways in which their sexuality continues to be unfairly constrained may interrupt the appearance of social equity that many adolescent girls (especially white, middle-class young women) naively and trustingly believe, thus leading them to reject feminism as unnecessary and mean-spirited and not relevant to their lives. As we know from the consciousness-raising activities that characterized the initial years of second-wave feminism, listening to the words of other girls and women can make it possible for girls to know and voice their experiences, their justified confusion and fears, their curiosities.  Through such relationships, we help ourselves and each other to live in our different female bodies with an awareness of danger, but also with a desire to feel the power of the erotic, to fine-tune our bodies and our psyches to what Audre Lord has called the “yes within ourselves”.  (Tolman 183-4)

Categories
Papers

Bizarre Fiction on the Right-to-Life Issues

          Several years ago, my wife and I would spend our Saturday nights watching one of those feeble horror movie programs–you know, the ones which showed low-budget horror flicks, something about an evil tomato that came from outer space and conquered Earth.  The show’s host was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.  Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (please note that whenever one says her name, one must say her appositive in as sinister a tone of voice as possible)…anyway, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was thoroughly enjoyable–not so much for those features of her costume or anatomy for which she was known (she was, ah, rather, ah, buxom and had high hair).  No, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was impressive for the tone with which she would comment about her low-budget films.  Everybody–from the producers of the show to the viewers to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, herself–everybody knew that the movies were supposed to be bad (some were quite well made).  Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, however, deliberately made fun of her movies.  And once, she pronounced a word in such a sarcastic tone of voice that it left a permanent impression on me.  Instead of saying the word spelled b-i-z-a-r-r-e “bi-zar” as the dictionary suggests, with the accent on the second syllable, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, said “bee-zar”, placing the accent on the first syllable and extending that syllable’s pronunciation.

          Beezar.  Bizarre.  No, beezar is a great metaphor for the fiction I encountered in preparation for this year’s paper.  The fictional works to be discussed represent some of the more beezar currents in abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia and are culled from my research work in right-to-life issues in American fiction of the past century.  I thought that it would be helpful, however, for us to examine three representative works from the last decade in greater detail to anticipate the trajectory that fiction concerned with the right-to-life issues might take in this twenty-first century.  The three works are Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream (1986), David Martin’s Bring Me Children (1992), and Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam (1998).  Instead of mere criticism of these novels, I would like to give you the opportunity to review certain passages so that the literary value of works dealing with the right-to-life issues can be better evaluated.

          Kathy Acker’s 1986 novel Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream is a fascinating piece of transgender fiction which begins with the main character having an abortion.  Instead of ordinary abortion plots, where the mother undergoes the abortion and suffers delayed post-abortion syndrome, Don Quixote is bizarre in that the main character communicates her psychotic view of reality to the reader before she aborts.  This psychotic view only becomes worse as the novel progresses.

                    When she was finally crazy because she was about to have an abortion, she conceived of the most insane idea that any woman can think of.  Which is to love.  How can a woman love? By loving someone other than herself.  She would love another person.  By loving another person, she would right every manner of political, social, and individual wrong: she would put herself in those situations so perilous the glory of her name would resound. The abortion was about to take place.

                   From her neck to her knees she wore pale or puke green paper.  This was her armor.  She had chosen it specially, for she knew that this world’s conditions are so rough for any single person, even a rich person, that person has to make do with what she can find: this’s no world for idealism.  Example: the green paper would tear as soon as the abortion began.

                             They told her they were going to take her from the operating chair to her own bed in a wheeling chair.  The wheeling chair would be her transportation.  She went out to look at it.  It was dying.  It had once been a hack, the same as all the hacks on grub street; now, as all the hacks, was a full-time drunk, mumbled all the time about sex but now no longer not even never did it but didn’t have the wherewithal or equipment to do it, and hung around with the other bums.  That is, women who’re having abortions.

                   She decided that since she was setting out on the greatest adventure any person can take, that of the Holy Grail, she ought to have a name (identity).  She had to name herself. When a doctor sticks a steel catheter into you while you’re lying on your back and you do exactly what he and the nurses tell you to; finally, blessedly, you let go of your mind. (9)

          The tone of these few paragraphs approximates that of the entire novel. There are non sequiturs, combinations of verb forms which confuse the reader so that it is not clear which verb controls the sentence structure, and hallucinatory episodes.  Moreover, from this opening section it is apparent that Don Quixote is not merely a mother who will abort her unborn child; she considers herself a knight whose pursuit for an abortion is likened to the pursuit of the Holy Grail.  This deception is necessary, of course, to persuade her that what she is doing is not only noble, but perhaps even of a religious quality.  Don Quixote’s companion is no human Sancho Panza, but a dog which is variously called Saint Simeon and which (or is it who?) has anthropomorphic abilities.  The dog talks, is able to manifest itself as a human at times, and has quite an extensive vocabulary.  After her abortion Don Quixote and her canine companion roam the country battling oppression against women.

          While the entire novel is a good read (if you like sheer verbal play and not coherency in your fiction), one extremely disturbing feature permeates the novel: virulent ad hominem attacks against Catholics.  Don Quixote tells the dog “Go along muttering, as all Catholics do” (23).  Catholics “kidnap young women not cause [sic] they’re women but cause [sic] they look like boys” (24). Don Quixote further asserts that “I know Catholicism is really a secret order of assassins” (24).

          Often, the ad hominem attacks are blended with non sequiturs.  In one instance the bruises which are on Don Quixote’s body are blamed on Catholics.  The dog states that “These aren’t the marks of heterosexual love, but of Catholics.  Catholics, since they’re celibate, throw stones” (31).  The educated reader will perceive the double non sequitur immediately.  Celibacy is neither a direct nor an approximate cause for “throwing stones” whether the phrase is to be taken literally or figuratively.  The second non sequitur compounded within these few words obscures the origin of the marks and blames without justifiable cause Catholics.  [1]

          Don Quixote’s attitude towards the Virgin Mary especially shows how strident is her hatred of life and established religion.  She thinks the Virgin Mary is a captive of white men: “Religious white men hate women,” she says, “and so they make women into the image of the Virgin Mary” (178).  This idea, that the Virgin Mary was somehow the result of male power over women, is most elaborately explained by the Chicana lesbian feminist writer Gloria Anzaldua, in an essay which is frequently anthologized in college readers, titled “Entering into the Serpent”.  Anzaldua tries to account for the change in the perception of pagan deities by declaring that

                    After the Conquest, the Spaniards and their Church continued to split Tonantsi/Guadalupe. They desexed Guadalupe, taking Coatlalopeuh, the serpent/sexuality, out of her.  They completed the split begun by the Nahuas by making la Virgen de Guadalupe/Virgen Maria into chaste virgins and Tlazolteotl/Coatlicue/la Chingada into putas; into the Beauties and the Beasts.  They went even further; they made all Indian deities and religious practices the work of the devil.

                             Thus Tonantsi became Guadalupe, the chaste protective mother, the defender of the Mexican people. (25)

          While Anzaldua is clearly wrong about the cause and effect relationship she hopes to establish to advance her lesbian viewpoint, one must admire the semantic gymnastics she uses to ignore one of the most miraculous and life-affirming events in human history.  But then, the effort to return to pagan roots is an effort which has wide currency in certain anti-life sectors.  Although pro-life pagans like Jeannine Parvati Baker would disagree with such an estimation [2], ten years ago Ginette Paris stated that paganism was a suitable alternative to patriarchal monotheism.  Moreover, since abortion is a sacred act, Paris suggests that the goddess Artemis can help people to understand “a new allocation of life and death powers” (27), and that abortion is not only “a kind of sacrifice” (34), but also one which was most suitable “as a sacrifice to Artemis” (107).  [3]

          Perhaps the antagonism of the narrator and various characters in the novel can be attributed to a deeper ideology.  The narrator states that women drove a “stake through the red Heart of Jesus Christ…women don’t want anything to do with love” (28).  This vampiristic approach is a Marxist and feminist critic’s literary playground.  Not only are the women in this novel repudiating the spiritual love of the God-Man; they are also defining themselves out of the province of the most powerful, constructive, and life-affirming emotion in the world. Instead, the characters believe in a “love” which is defined at one point as “the unity of friendship and desire” (46).  The sophisticated reader would be able to find many flaws in this definition, most notably what is missing: a spiritual connection; and an adequate placement of the erotic as a means instead of an end to love.  The explicit sex scenes in the novel indicate that the characters have bought into the concept that love and sexual activity are necessarily devoid of moral values.

          If the beginning of the novel seemed tame, once Don Quixote has her abortion, things immediately degenerate into a fantasy one.  At the beginning the narrator states that abortion brings about insanity.  Don Quixote is sixty-six-years-old.  The reader may ask at this point: What?  Could a mother be so old and have an abortion?  Possibly, but still….  The text quickly becomes polyvocal, mixing strands of conversation which seem to have no relationship with what has just been said.  The reader must recall the subtitle of the novel: Which Was a Dream.  An insert which breaks the flow of the novel recommends Prince as United States president.  [4]  Another insert regards Arabs as liars.  These two unrelated inserts are eventually followed by Don Quixote addressing her aborted son in her will with an admonition to marry rich.  Don Quixote is renamed, avatar-like, as Lulu, a Pygmalion-type character, who considers herself an abortion.  Lulu becomes Don Quixote again as she dreams about abortions.  Even the dog dreams of abortion.

          And yet, even this novel, which seems to delight in verbal play around abortion and masochistic lesbianism, sends out signals which indicate that not all is well with the anti-life view of the world.  The reader, however, must bring not only traditional rhetorical skills to uncover some meaning from the psychotic ramblings, but also a skill at correcting logical fallacies.  Perhaps deconstruction would elucidate the novel, for, if deconstruction aims to demonstrate how a text subverts itself from within, then the wild statements of the various characters can be corrupted not from without–by, for example, a pro-life reader–but from within, by the speakers themselves.  Thus, the cry “let me be alive!” (77) spoken by the prince character shows what priority life has over death.  Don Quixote acknowledges abortions are “unnatural means [to regain] the proper balance of human power” (178).  [5]  Don Quixote rejects suicide as a solution to her own problems because her mother committed suicide and left “a legacy of anger and fear” (190).  Thinking that she is beyond love, and therefore beyond being human, implies that Don Quixote must have an idea of what true love is as well as an idea of what it means to be human.

          Similar rhetorical and logical approaches could be used to explicate the religious positions of the main character.  Don Quixote considers the prayers of religious persons as no communication.  What is left out in this traditional negation is what Don Quixote does consider the prayers of religious persons to be.  Finally, quite oddly, like a deus ex machina in traditional drama, God tells Don Quixote that He is imperfect and that she should believe in herself; the novel ends soon after this “revelation”.  Even here, with this final comment (or attack?) on a believing world, the reader could ask if Don Quixote will become intelligent enough to discern whether this is a true revelation from the Almighty or not.  But that is a step beyond what the author may have intended.  After all, what is most significant is that Don Quixote received a divine message at all.  This presumes that even Don Quixote, the mother who suffers through the psychosis surrounding her abortion, has not yet gone beyond God’s reach.

          The next novel to be considered as most representative of bizarre infanticide fiction certainly must be David Martin’s 1992 book, Bring Me Children.  Set in contemporary West Virginia, the novel begins with a gripping narrative of infanticide.

                   In the center of this cavern is a crevice twenty feet wide, twice that long, a hundred feet deep.  The man has dropped rocks down that crevice and knows what’s at the bottom–an underground lake, perpetually cold and home to blind, white fish.

                   …

                   Because the baby is hungry and because the hard, round top of the rock is uncomfortable, her crying quickly elevates to an angry shrieking.  She is trying to roll over on her stomach, the bundle of blankets slipping as she squirms.

                             Having stepped off the bridge, standing well back from the crevice’s edge, the man cannot see the infant in the blackness of this cave, but he knows precisely where he left her, knows how many inches she has to maneuver.

                             The louder she shrieks, the angrier he becomes.  His hands have tightened into fists.  Rage is causing him to tremble.

                   Then from his right fist he sticks out a stiff thumb and jabs it into the dark above his head–as if trying to thumb someone in the eye.  “Well?” he asks.

                             Then shouts it. “Well?

                             He’s waiting for an answer as the baby continues screaming from the top of that rounded boulder in the center of that narrow path in the middle of that deep crevice.

                   But the only answer he gets is the one he supplies himself.

                             “Nothing!” the man shrieks.  He repeats it again and again–“Nothing!  NOTHING!”–with his head thrown back, both fisted hands in the air, his outraged howling competing for volume with the baby’s crying until the two of them are joined in a single awful, echoing crescendo.

                             He’s muttering all during the return trip, pausing only when he’s near enough to the cave’s entrance to feel the outside weather, pausing to listen.  He can still hear her.  She’s lasted much longer than any of the others.  He continues on to the entrance and stops there, waiting.  Then her crying abruptly ends and the cave resumes its silence…. (4-6)

          Although Martin’s book lacks the comprehensive anti-Catholic bigotry of Acker’s novel, most evident here is the anti-religious bias of the main character, Dr. Mason Quinndell.  [6]  Quinndell’s opposite is John Lyon, a steeled television anchor who sobs uncontrollably when he reads a news story about the numbers of children who are murdered each year.  It is this intense compassion which motivates a catalyst character in the beginning of the novel, Claire Cept, to contact him with her suspicions about who is responsible for the infanticides.  Quinndell is called “Doctor Death” and a “monster”, and the narrator assures the reader that this is “not a figure of speech” (26).  On first seeing Quinndell, Lyon’s reaction is that he sees a “monstrous form” that “nature is supposed to ensure it is aborted before it can be carried to term” (68).

          What makes this novel especially unique is the barbaric delight which Quinndell takes in satisfying inordinate sexual desires.  Quinndell, who is blind, is the epitome of the eugenicist: he thinks his quality of life is more important than a bum’s and he blames God for his blindness.  With the cooperation of a policeman, Quinndell regularly has vagabonds brought to his house where, after having the individuals tied to a gurney, he delights in amputating various body parts with “Mr. Gigli”, a surgical wire that Quinndell uses so that his victims suffer excruciating pain before they die.  The sadism which Quinndell inflicts is necessary for his sexual abuse of his secretary, whom he regularly sodomizes.

          Even this novel, however, poses some interesting religious questions.  When Quinndell asks “Well?” after depositing the newborn on the precarious subterranean ledge, he may be illustrating a late twentieth-century effort to determine whether God exists.  A direct challenge like this presented to the Almighty may merely be the secular person’s effort to, so to speak, smoke God out of the cave.  Would God Himself tolerate an evil happening to a purely innocent human being?  If Quinndell succeeds in having God reveal Himself to right this obvious wrong, then perhaps he could ask God why he, a brilliant doctor, suffers from blindness.  Though he is a “monster” as we are assured by the narrator, perhaps this infanticide novel is Quinndell qua Jacob, wrestling with the divine.

          The winner for the most bizarre euthanasia novel may not seem all that bizarre.  Ian McEwan’s 1998 novel Amsterdam concerns events in the lives of two main characters, Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday, both of whom not only were lovers of a deceased woman named Molly, but are now best friends.  Set in Britain in 1996, Clive is a composer who has been commissioned to write a symphony for the millennium.  Vernon is the editor of a newspaper called the Judge.  Both of the men are political opponents of the foreign secretary, Julian Garmony.  Vernon’s ability to dehumanize is evident when he compares Garmony to a “cancer from the organs of the body politic” (121).  Vernon thinks that exposing Garmony’s secret fantasies of dressing in women’s clothes will help defeat his bid for prime minister.  Garmony’s wife defuses the embarrassing situation surrounding her husband by going public with the photos in a televised interview, thus affirming the Christian principle that “love was a greater force than spite” (135).

          While the political side of the novel is thus resolved, the more important theme is the attitude towards euthanasia conveyed by the characters.  Both main characters have interesting definitions of what it means to be human.

          Clive cannot tolerate the ordinariness of human life.  His attitude is based on his religious principle that there was something “wrong with the world for which neither God nor His absence could be blamed” (5).  When talking about the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s on Molly, Clive does not merely state that he would have killed her had he been her husband.  He also specifies the process by which he would have killed her–with an overdose of sleeping pills.  Clive is an aesthetic person.  Clive loves abstract beauty more than ordinary life and considers an appreciation of music a special quality of humanness.  For Clive, being fully alive is experiencing the outdoors.  In fact, while walking through England’s Lake District, Clive is so delighted in the beauty surrounding him that he thinks he “heard the music he had been looking for” to complete his millennial symphony (90).  However, on the same walk Clive may be a witness to a man attacking a woman, but he doesn’t interfere.  Later in the novel, when he is called upon by the police to identify a possible rape suspect, Clive is unable to face the human reality brought into the police station.  The passage which follows this episode, written in the best Dickensian tradition, shows Clive’s revulsion toward ordinary humanity.

                    He was allowed to go through to the heart of the station, where people were charged.  In the early evening, while he was waiting to go over his statement again, he witnessed a scuffle in front of the duty sergeant; a big, sweating teenager with a shaved head had been picked up hiding in a back garden with bolt cutters, master keys, a pad saw, and a sledgehammer concealed beneath his coat.  He was not a burglar, he insisted, and no way was he going in the cells.  When the sergeant told him he was, the boy hit a constable in the face and was wrestled to the floor by two other constables, who put handcuffs on him and led him away.  No one seemed much bothered, not even the policeman with the split lip, but Clive put a restraining hand over his leaping heart and was obliged to sit down.  Later a patrolman carried in a white-faced, silent four-year-old boy who had been found wandering about the car park of a derelict pub.  Later still, a tearful Irish family came to claim him.  Two hair-chewing girls, twin daughters of a violent father, came in for their own protection and were treated with joky familiarity.  A woman with a bleeding face lodged a complaint against her husband.  A very ancient black lady whom osteoporosis had folded double had been thrown out of her room by her daughter-in-law and had nowhere to go.  Social workers came and went, and most of them looked as criminally inclined, or as unfortunate, as their clients.  Everybody smoked.  In the fluorescent light everybody looked ill.  There was a lot of scorching tea in plastic cups, and there was a lot of shouting, and routine, uncolorful swearing, and clenched-fist threats that no one took seriously.  It was one huge unhappy family with domestic problems that were of their nature insoluble. This was the family living room.  Clive shrank behind his brick-red tea.  In his world it was rare for someone to raise his voice, and he found himself all evening in a state of exhausted excitement.  Practically every member of the public who came in, voluntarily or not, was down-at-heel, and it seemed to Clive that the main business of the police was to deal with the numerous and unpredictable consequences of poverty, which they did with far more patience and less squeamishness than he ever could. (165-6)

          Given such a revulsion toward ordinary humans, when he develops a pain in his left hand, as Molly did when she first began to deteriorate from Alzheimer’s, Clive thinks that he may suffer the same end.  He asks Vernon to kill him if he becomes debilitated.  (Vernon later writes Clive that he would kill him if necessary.) Eventually, Clive’s nervousness about his own physical health persuades him to consider suicide.  Clive enumerates his symptoms: “unpredictable, bizarre, and extremely antisocial behavior, a complete loss of reason.  Destructive tendencies, delusions of omnipotence.  A disintegrated personality” (169).

          What the reader should note significantly is that there is really no justification for such an enumeration.  Unpredictable? Possibly.  But then aren’t all artsy people supposed to be unpredictable, especially when the various muses inspire them?  Bizarre?  No previous action on Clive’s part could possibly be construed as bizarre.  The most bizarre act in the entire novel leading up to this enumeration of symptoms is Garmony’s wearing women’s dresses.  Clive may be a loner, but he is not antisocial. His desire to write the “Nessun dorma” for the new century is a noble ambition and therefore could neither be a delusion nor a symptom of omnipotence.  As far as having a disintegrated personality, Clive’s friend Vernon seems to fit that criterion better.  Although his view on human life is not as elaborated as Clive’s, Vernon’s definition of humanness is, if not neurotic, then certainly unique.  Because so many people depend on him for answers in his publishing office, Vernon sometimes thinks that he himself does not exist and that he is fragmented among other people.  However, while Clive strives for the fantastic and the abstract, Vernon feels alive from the thrill of the reality around him.

          Since life is so unbearable for Clive and since he is so angry at his friend for wanting to publish the Garmony pictures, Clive goes to Amsterdam, ostensibly to oversee the performance of his millennial symphony, but also to arrange that he and Vernon would be killed together.  Clive laces Vernon’s drink with poison.  In the hotel where they are staying, a willing Dutch doctor and his nurse kill both of them after they are drugged.

          These two euthanasia episodes are pathos-inspiring; the reader sees the hopes and potential of the two protagonists dashed as the needles are thrust into their arms.  Even though euthanasia is legal in Holland, their deaths are called mutual murders.  While the euthanasia situation in the Netherlands is only casually mentioned throughout the novel, the negative connotation of the practice comes through clearly.  The first mention of Dutch euthanasia is denoted as doctors in Holland “exploiting the suicide laws” (40).  “The Dutch medical scandal” is mentioned several times throughout the novel, but only as an ancillary motif until the final murders of Clive and Vernon.  After his arrival at Schiphol airport, Clive exclaims in epideictic of praise:

                    What a calm and civilized city Amsterdam was….  Such a tolerant, openminded, grown-up sort of place: the beautiful brick and carved timber warehouses converted into tasteful apartments, the modest van Gogh bridges, the understated street furniture, the intelligent, unstuffy-looking Dutch on their bikes with their level-headed children sitting behind.  Even the shopkeepers looked like professors, the street sweepers like jazz musicians.  There was never a city more rationally ordered. (168)

          Of course, as with most epideictic, the hyperbole should become evident for the reader.  [7]  After the murders, Garmony exclaims in the opposing form of epideictic, that of censure.  On their mission to return the bodies to Britain, Garmony says to George (Molly’s husband) quite simply: “Turns out there are these rogue doctors here, pushing the euthanasia laws to limits.  Mostly they get paid for bumping off people’s elderly relatives” (191).  It seems a fitting counterpoint when Garmony balances Clive’s praise for the rational Dutch with a comment of his own about their rationality:

                             “Ah,” he [George] sighed at last.  “The Dutch and their reasonable laws.”

                             “Quite,” Garmony said, “When it comes to being reasonable, they rather go over the top.” (192)

Even the narrator can’t seem to restrain from implying that not all is well in the Dutch paradise.  Before the above snippet of conversation between George and Garmony, the narrator reports that “On the corner was a spruce little coffeehouse, probably selling drugs” (192).

          What can be said about these novels that may indicate the trajectory that twenty-first century fiction on the right-to-life issues may take?  At least three factors can be located on a calculus of increasing disrespect for life.

          A first prophecy for future fiction would be that we must prepare ourselves to see more fiction as bizarre as Acker’s novel.  Note that, since abortion is a common item in the culture, the traditional storyline of a young mother in anguish over what to do regarding an untimely pregnancy has been supplanted by newer fictional representations.  Acker’s book is an instance of the fictional extremes which an author would take trying to establish a new perspective on abortion fiction.  Inject some lesbianism here, some polyvocal characterizations there, add a healthy dose of masochism, and thus we have a new recipe for abortion fiction.

          Note also that the extremes are only now being reached in infanticide fiction. Infanticide is still a reprehensible matter in the popular culture; that is, few people except Peter Singer and assorted other intellectuals have bought the philosophy that handicapped newborns should have their lives killed on the scale of unborn children through abortion.  Infanticide fiction still follows the traditional plot that abortion had two decades ago–either the plot line of a family struggling with what to do with someone who does not meet the standard of American perfection regarding human life or the plot line that a health care professional has decided to take matters into his or her own hands, killing the infant who is deemed as less than perfect.  There are exceptions, however, and David Martin’s novel is one indication that ordinary infanticide may not hold the reading public’s attention as much as a novel with bizarre means of killing infants as well as varied masochistic and sexually explicit content.

          A second prophecy is that twenty-first century fiction will continue to be devoid of ethical values, either by making no overt reference to values outside the world of fiction or by having characters who do not argue the ethical merits of the right-to-life issues at all.  All of the novels discussed here do not address the ethical foundations of the right-to-life issues. No fictional character cares about how Judaism’s view on abortion differs from Roman Catholic Christianity’s, just as no character cares that there are some in the culture who advocate that handicapped newborns should not have their right to life legally recognized.  In fact, what is noteworthy is the attack against religion in the abortion novel.  Acker’s characters are similar to standard American bigots who, if they cannot attack the beliefs of Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians, do the next best thing and attack the religious people themselves.

          I predict that the ad hominem attacks will become worse.  If Catholics can tolerate being victims–even if only in fiction, which really doesn’t mean anything, anyway (right?)–then fundamentalist Christians can be picked on next.  Maybe even Orthodox Jews after them; maybe even….  The list of future targets of abuse in fiction can expand as long as one group suffers silently.

          Third, the works discussed herein do not allow for good old-fashioned catharsis.  Don Quixote ends in a limbo regarding her spiritual welfare.  Though Quinndell is killed at novel’s end, the lives of the handicapped newborns are not properly mourned because they were, after all, “defective” anyway.  Vernon is killed by his best friend and unfortunately will have his reputation tainted as one who was involved in a double murder–a euthanasia murder at that, in the Netherlands of all places, the euthanasia capital of the world.

          What are the emotional benefits to be derived from such fiction?  Why should I read novels which make me depressed about the life-denying state of society?  What do I get out of reading about a post-abortion mother who is delusional, or reading about babies falling into a chasm, or reading about a paranoid man who would take the slightest symptom of being human and convert it into a justification to end his own life?  What satisfaction possibly accrues from reading novels with these plots?

          Perhaps this is the ultimate rhetorical point of such life-denying fiction.  The meaning of Horace’s famous dictum “aut prodesse aut delectare” is often obscured by the Latinized correlative conjunctions.  Literature has two purposes: to teach and to delight.  Perhaps these novels can entertain me in some way, but, more importantly, they can teach me something about the value of human life.  Perhaps I can use these novels as a barometer against which the social pressure for killing various other classes of human beings can be measured.  Perhaps their warped views of human life can challenge me to be a prophet to this twenty-first century, to warn the world.  Perhaps, finally, what these novels can teach is that I should do my best to see that real life never becomes so bizarre.

                                                     Works Cited

Acker, Kathy. Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream. New York: Grove, 1986.

Anzaldua, Gloria. “Entering into the Serpent.” Ways of Reading: an Anthology for Writers. Eds. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 22-35.

Baker, Jeannine Parvati. “The Sword Was Not with the Goddess: a Spiritual Midwife Addresses the Need to Heal Abortion.” 22 May 2000. http://www.fnsa.org/fall98/baker1.html.

Martin, David. Bring Me Children. New York: Random House, 1992.

McEwan, Ian. Amsterdam. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

Paris, Ginette. The Sacrament of Abortion. Trans. Joanna Mott. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1992. Trans. of L’Enfant, l’Amour, la Mort. Quebec: Editions Nuits Blanches, 1990.


    [1]  Of course, Catholics are not the only ones who suffer at the hands of anti-life lesbians in Acker’s novel.  Fundamentalist Christians are persecuted primarily because of their stance on abortion.  The characters mix religious faith with racism freely, as when Don Quixote says that such fundamentalist Christians are “Born-Agains who were murdering women who tried to get abortions in the United States” (177; capitalization in original).

    [2]  See, for example, Baker’s online essay “The Sword Was Not with the Goddess: a Spiritual Midwife Addresses the Need to Heal Abortion”.  Baker asserts:

                        I have had pagans and yogis alike tell me that motherhood archetypically contains both the loving as well as the rejecting mother and to be “whole” we need to express both.  Abortion seen in that light is but an extension of the natural “weaning mother.”  This argument is absurd…. The source of confusion is calling killing “weaning” or a “natural process”–dying is a natural process, killing other humans is not part of a natural religious path.

    [3]  The circumstances of the abortion in Acker’s novel are clearly pagan and devoid of any traditional Judaeo-Christian ethics.  Another mother who will abort, described as “Irish”, prays to the Moon.  This is significant if only because the adjective “Irish” resonates with the religion most vociferously identified with the pro-life position, Roman Catholicism.  Moreover, perhaps this is Acker’s way of helping the reader understand that the mothers who are aborting are pagan.  Just as Paris promotes worship of Artemis, Acker is indicating here that the Irish mother has abandoned her traditional religious roots and has gone over not necessarily to Goddess, but to Artemis worship (the moon is, after all, symbolic of Artemis, or, in the ancient Roman deity, Diana).

    [4]  For some reason, although the characters are vicious towards the Catholic Church, Prince is described as “a good Catholic” (22).

    [5]  This is in opposition to Paris’ thinking that the goddess Artemis can help people understand “a new allocation of life and death powers” (27) and that abortion is merely “another way of choosing death over life” (51; italics in original).

    [6]  In fact, several characters demonstrate various degrees of devotion to Catholicism.  Claire Cept, the woman who first directs the protagonist, John Lyon, to the infanticides, is an African-American Catholic.  Her granddaughter of the same name will assist the protagonist in solving the crimes.  This granddaughter, who had an abortion and thinks she cannot have normal relationships with men, in one episode moans before a statue of the Virgin Mary from which the Jesus figure has been chipped away.  As she prays before the statue, Claire says “I’m sorry” (200-2).  At novel’s end, however, Lyon is happily married with Claire, and they have children.

    [7]  Helping readers discover this hyperbole may be a task for the academy.  One of the benefits of presenting papers at University Faculty for Life conferences is that we academics can learn suitable terminology to best express trends in literature and other sciences which may help not only us as we read difficult or politically-challenging texts but also our students as they struggle to negotiate the value of a text on a first reading.  Thus, besides calling this passage an exercise in hyperbole or misplaced epideictic of praise, I can also label it as an instance of “disordered sentiment” which Dr. Frank Zapatka identified as a central concern of Walker Percy, that great twentieth-century writer whose works are more prophetic than they are humorous or philosophical.  Dr. Zapatka summarized Percy’s impressions that the Germans were the “nicest” people in the 1930s–the same decade when they attacked the civil rights of Jews and when they began thinking of the killing efforts which would occur in the next decade.  Similarly, Percy chastised Americans for being so generous and, well, golly, just the “nicest” people around–this, even while they have abortion legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy, and while their respect for the handicapped and the elderly is comparable to Quinndell’s and Clive’s.  The superlative form of the adjective used to describe both the Nazi German of the 1930s and 1940s and the American of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century is, as Zapatka identified in his paper presentation, striking.

Categories
Papers

Breaking the Linguistic Permafrost of Current American Anti-Life Fiction: A Guide for Students of Literature

          Recently, I presented a paper at a medieval conference at McMaster University wherein I noted that many women in Thomas Malory’s tales of King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table are often not the sweet virginal creatures denoted by the term “damsels.”  I noted further that, since the term is popularly joined to the prepositional phrase “in distress,” the combination phrase (“damsels in distress”) was an example of how some words have become frozen in a “linguistic permafrost.”

          Contemporary American fiction, shackled by a corrupted anti-life feminist literary theory and by the oppression of nine-month legalized abortion, presents few works of fiction where women characters can be in any way denoted as “damsels in distress.”   As I pronounced those words to my audience then, I had two thoughts.  First, what a, as our students would say, “cool” idea to enunciate.  Secondly, I thought that, regarding the presentation of the right-to-life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia in contemporary American fiction, there is a similar linguistic permafrost perpetually freezing terms such as “abortion,” “choice,” and “rights” in anti-life writing.

          There is a summer, however, even in Siberia.  I believe that the linguistic permafrost which has enveloped contemporary fiction will eventually shatter, for there are fissures in the surface of the ice now.  You can hear the subterranean rumbling.  It will be my task to present evidence of the breaking of the linguistic permafrost for you so that it will be obvious not only to ourselves, but also to our students that the literature of the United States–even now, as it is being churned out in these nightmare decades of legal killing of the unborn child, the handicapped newborn, and the elderly–even now, our literature supports life-affirming principles.

          The first half of this paper will focus on current fiction titles which primarily present an anti-life theme.  [1]  What are some defining features of current anti-life fiction?  Faulty characterization of pro-lifers tops the list of attributes of anti-life fiction, followed closely by a corollary point, a blindness to the pro-life viewpoint.  On a secondary level, anti-life fiction frequently suffers from poor diction and historical inaccuracy.  Finally, in at least one noticeable case, spelling, grammatical, and even typographical errors abound in one work of anti-life fiction.

          I will focus on Sue Robinson’s The Amendment (1990), Walter Kirn’s She Needed Me (1992), and Mary Logue’s Still Explosion (1993).

          The plot of Sue Robinson’s The Amendment (1990) is unique in its boldness to “solve” what the author presents as a future “problem”: how to bypass a constitutional amendment which restores the first civil right to life.  Once the Human Life Amendment has been ratified, Robinson’s characters engage in guerrilla-warfare tactics to enable mothers to have abortions.  Underground abortion clinics spring up around the country to do their killing work.  Frances Foster is an elderly woman who lost not only her grandchild, but also her daughter in a botched abortion in one of these illegal underground abortion clinics.  She is resolved to guarantee that mothers continue to have the right to kill their unborn children.  She suggests to her accomplices that they can frustrate the protection of the Human Life Amendment by kidnapping the head of the pro-life movement, First Lady Mary Morgan.  Unlike our unfortunate real First Lady, Mary Morgan is the force behind the national pro-life organization which brought about ratification of the Human Life Amendment, the Rights for the Unborn League.  This kidnapping is a plausible feature of the plot because Foster has documentary evidence that it was Frances Foster’s secret-abortionist father who aborted the future First Lady’s child.

          In Robinson’s fictive world, the strategy works; a blow is struck against the protection of the Human Life Amendment.  The First Lady and pro-life groups are forced to deposit $100 million dollars into a Swiss bank account so that Frances Foster and her pro-abortion gang can open an abortion clinic in Sweden which would cater to the killing needs of the mothers who come to them.

          The plot of the novel can be torn apart with one stroke of  deconstruction.  One statement by a minor character can be deconstructed enormously.  At the University Faculty for Life conference last year, I suggested that, as current literary theories have been used to distort and contort texts into versions foreign to the author’s intention, or at least what has been considered the canonical reading for decades or centuries, these same literary theories can be used to valorize pro-life readings of texts.  While many academics may argue over the profound philosophical assault which deconstruction makes on substantive readings, the theory can be used in the case of this novel to unravel its anti-life rhetoric.

          Just before she is abducted, the First Lady’s hairdresser exclaims, “I want to live” (188).  Note that the character does not say merely “Oh” or “What’s happening?”  This spontaneous life-affirming exclamation is an odd statement to admit into a novel ostensibly concerned with declaring the acceptability of killing. The statement should immediately enable students to polarize themselves around two camps: those for the right to life and those against it.  Here is a character, blacking out from the application of chloroform, whose last thought before losing consciousness is life affirming.  Immediately, the case can be made that any human being automatically responds to the threat of death by declaring the opposite, perhaps because this automatic response is that innate right to life with which we are endowed by the Creator.  Since J. Hillis Miller asserts that deconstruction is not nihilistic, once the polarities of life and death are established, students can deconstruct the anti-life intent of the novel and replace it with a life-affirming criticism (9).

          Moreover, pro-life academics and students will be struck by the vengeance dominating the anti-life characters in the book.  Note that, instead of working legislatively to overturn the constitutional amendment restoring the first civil right to life, Frances Foster and her pro-abortion gang resort to illegal activities: kidnapping, threatening government officials, and deliberately breaking a national constitutional law.  What is the paramount emotion directing Frances’ and other characters’ behavior?  Hatred: of the First Lady, who is reduced either to a “little bitch” (162) or a “pricey little bitch” (205); hatred of the pro-life movement, which is called by one anti-life character as “an organization she detested with a pure hot loathing that made her tremble with fury” (93).  Hatred: of individual pro-lifers; the same anti-life character trembles with hatred again as she dehumanizes a pro-life character by calling him “the loathsome creature from the Rights for the Unborn League” (93).  Frances Foster similarly voices her violent thoughts.  At one point, looking at another pro-life character, Thomas B. Tuttle, she feels the urge “to grab Mr. Thomas B. Tuttle by his skinny neck and wring it until he was dead” (141).  She reduces his humanity to a synecdoche; he is part of a larger “monster,” the Rights for the Unborn League (141).  Specifically, Frances Foster reduces the pro-life man to being only “a curling fingernail, a piece of dirt under its claw” (141).

          Of course, such dehumanization should be typical.  If anti-lifers do not respect human life in the flesh, why should they respect fictional human life on the printed page?

          Walter Kirn’s She Needed Me (1992) is another boiler-plate anti-life novel.  The main characters are the descriptively-named Weaver Walquist, pro-life activist, and Kim Lindgren, with whom he has a sexual relationship.  [2]  There is also a pro-lifer named Lucas Boone, who is the leader of the Conscience Squad, an Operation Rescue-type activist organization.

          Walter’s bossy mother eventually helps Kim obtain an abortion.  Using a cultural criticism approach, pro-life academics and students are able to note the absences of pro-life educational groups and positive pregnancy support centers in the novel.

          The trio of Weaver, Kim, and her brother Ricky (perhaps even Lucas in substitution for Ricky) is reminiscent of the characters in Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (the Librarian, Vida, and Foster), all of whom collaborate in securing the killing of Vida’s unborn child.

          As is typical with anti-life fiction, Kirn’s novel contains some faulty legal citation.  A reference to state law is questionable:

                    If all Kim does for the next four weeks is watch TV and eat, she’ll have to keep the baby.  At the end of the first trimester, state law will tie her hands.  (88, all italics in original to show that this is what Weaver is thinking)

Perhaps it would be too shocking for Kirn to acknowledge that in the reader’s real world abortion is legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy and that, even if a state were to outlaw abortions, federal law in its abortion distortion dominates the will of the people at the state level.

          Again, as is typical of most anti-life novels I have read, the baby, unfortunately, is aborted at the end of the novel.  The reader is left with the distinct impression at closure, however, that Weaver’s and Kim’s romantic/sexual relationship has ended.  Moreover, Kim, the aborted mother, hints at what pro-life academics and students would recognize as Post Abortion Syndrome. Weaver relates that “Kim said it sometimes after sex, in the dark: `I can still be a mother someday'” (227).

          In any respect, Kirn’s book is tame contrasted with the more invidious Still Explosion by Mary Logue.  The cover of Still Explosion, a 1993 work, has the following quote from Nancy Pickard:  “The best I’ve read in a long time.”  Apparently, Pickard hasn’t been reading very much lately.  Critical reviews of the novel have been equally faulty.  [3]

          The plot is stereotypically anti-life.  An abortion clinic is bombed; pro-lifers are “obviously” suspect.  Anti-life journalist Laura Malloy solves the crime with little police help.  All is saved so that the abortion clinic can continue to kill unborn babies, harm their mothers, and estrange the fathers of the aborted children from their former lovers.  In essence, Still Explosion has such a predictable plot that anybody could write it.

          The characters are not only typically rendered by someone who probably is an anti-lifer; they are stereotypically rendered.  Pro-life activists are described either as devout Roman Catholics or fundamentalist Christians.  Furthermore, pro-life people are portrayed as chauvinists.  The leading pro-life activist, Tom Chasen, treats his wife as an inferior.  Another pro-life character, Paul Jameson, is portrayed not only as one who suffers from the abortion of his own child, but also as someone who resents women.

          Another character, who “got pregnant when she was in high school” and decided to give birth to her unborn child, is described gratuitously as a young woman who “said there was no way she could have had an abortion.  Catholic and all” (136).

          Pro-lifers know that many talented people contribute to this, our civil rights movement of the 1990s.  Pro-lifers are liberal and conservative, religious and atheist, Christian and Jewish, Democrat and Republican.  There is even, reportedly, a pro-life homosexual group.  The diversity of the pro-life movement is something which certain anti-life writers cannot understand.

          By novel’s end, the major pro-life characters are taken away (as in “by the police”) or blown away (as in “by a bomb”).  Perhaps this is Logue’s subliminal desire to “solve” the “problem” of pro-lifers.  [4]

          In fact, the most engaging “character” in the novel is Fabiola, Laura Malloy’s pet ferret.  (Gee, I wonder if, unlike her owner, Fabiola is pro-life?  Maybe that’s why the heroine keeps poor Fabiola in a closet.)

          Immediately, the pro-life reader is hit with one of the favorite assumptions proclaimed by anti-lifers.  Malloy wonders about the mothers going for abortions and wants to “find out what had brought them to this point in their lives and how they would feel if this right were taken away from them” (3).  What “right”? Abortion is a wrong, not a right.

          The moral blindness on abortion from which all anti-lifers suffer is evident in several passages.  One in particular is quintessential anti-life rhetoric.  Malloy enumerates the following as sufferings in the world which greatly disturb her:

                    AIDS killing babies and otters caught in oil spills.  The otters always got to me, I could picture them so clearly just swimming along like they had done all their lives and then this black, smelly, gluey stuff would get in their eyes and noses, cover their bodies and they would drown.  (27)

Pro-lifers immediately would query how someone could be more sensitive to the needs of the world’s seals than to the needs of the unborn.  In fact, we who are pro-life academics can use the above passage as an assignment for either an old-fashioned in-class writing exercise or a new-fashioned reader-response revision by having our students “translate” the passage into “pro-life”:

                    Abortionists killing babies in saline abortions.  The babies always got to me.  I could picture them so clearly just swimming along like they had done all their unborn lives and then this burning, saline solution would get in their eyes and noses, and burn their lungs and the skin of their unborn bodies and they would drown in a saline ocean.  [5]

          Again, Malloy must be either ignorant of fetology or unwilling to accept the truth enunciated by the pro-life movement when she states to pro-lifer Tom Chasen, “Well, for one thing, it isn’t a child.  And for another when a couple decide to use birth control, they are making a decision together about whether they want her to get pregnant” (125).  First, if the unborn child is not a child, what is he or she?  A rock?  A clump of cells from the mother’s body which magically–poof!–becomes a unique human being?  A car?  Second, birth control is either contraception or other non-artificial means of reproductive control.  What does that have to do with the fact that after fertilization a human life exists?

          Quick: a test.  Take out your pens and put all books under your desk.  Circle whatever might be incorrect with this next passage while I hum to myself the tune played during the final Jeopardy question:

                    I remembered when some members of a militant pro-life organization called Pro-Life Action Ministries raided a dumpster behind a family planning clinic in Robinsdale and found twelve “aborted babies.”  …  The legislature had passed a “fetal disposal law” and even though Planned Parenthood sought an injunction on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, the law was finally made official.  It asked that the “human remains of an aborted or miscarried fetus be disposed of in a dignified manner, either burial or cremation.”  (149)

          What’s wrong with the above passage?  Right, Alex!  When not quoting someone or introducing a word used in a different and unique manner, the use of quotation marks around certain terms diminishes the importance of those terms.  It is as though the “being” of the term or phrase is lessened.  Why are there quotes around “aborted babies”?  Either the pro-life activists (note that they are gratuitously called followers of a “militant” pro-life group) actually did find babies who were aborted or they found objects which they purported to be babies which (not “who’, since that pronoun denotes humanity) were aborted.  Which one is it?  Of course, an anti-life author would not want her readers to sympathize with pro-lifers in this matter.  Finding bodies of aborted babies in a dumpster is gruesome and could sway some people who are undecided on abortion closer to the pro-life side.  [6]  Why, too, is it necessary to use quotes around “fetal disposal law”?  The same line of reasoning can assert that the words are used correctly and need not be called into question with quotation marks.

          Malloy speaks a fundamental dishonesty about the theological issue of when the soul enters the human body when she states “that was the crux of all the controversy.  When did the soul come into the body?  At conception, at quickening, at birth?” (185).  Today’s anti-lifers can be respected for at least one thing: when they advocate the killing of an unborn child, they do not consider this theological argument.  Permit me to make more sweeping generalizations.  Anti-lifers do not care about the theology of abortion.  They demand taxpayer funding of abortions.  They demand censorship of pro-lifers.  They know human life begins at fertilization, but so what?  Women must be able to kill their unborn children if they so desire.  An anti-life author shows great disrespect for the intellectual underpinnings of the abortion wrongs movement, and lowers his or her own credibility within that community, when he or she classifies abortion as a theological issue.

          When “pro-life” Paul Jameson recounts his girlfriend’s abortion to Laura Malloy, he states, “OK, I know it’s not a baby, it’s a fetus, but in my mind it was a baby” (224).  Logue reduces with one prepositional phrase the entire war between pro-lifers and anti-lifers as a version of the phenomenalistic argument: it’s all in your mind.  If you think it’s a baby, then it’s a baby; if you think it’s only a choice, then it’s a choice.

          Similarly, when another mother describes her abortion to Malloy, she states that the abortionist told her

                    the fetus was too little to see, but I didn’t believe him.  Not that I wanted to see it (sic).  I think about it (sic) a lot.  It (sic) would’ve been a baby.  Right before the abortion, I tried to tell it (sic) it was nothing personal.  That at another time I would have felt different.  (112)

Note the extensive use of the impersonal pronoun for a child who was either a “he” or a “she.”  The use of the impersonal pronoun presents another problem to readers who support the first civil right: the necessary correction which such readers must make (as evidenced by the numerous “sic”s which I introduced into the passage quoted) impedes the progression of the text.  Thus, the comprehension of the anti-life intent of the passage is severely hampered.

          As the opening pages of the novel hits pro-lifers with an assault of anti-life rhetoric, so does the last page, which attempts to summarize the functions of the characters and to bring closure to the book:

                    Christine’s reasons for having an abortion, Tom Chasen’s fears of women using it as a means of birth control, Sandy Chasen’s religious fervor, Donna Asman’s [the abortion clinic director] commitment to providing women of all income brackets with a choice, Meg Jameson’s Catholic views, and Sheila Langstrom’s desire to have a baby, coloring her attitude on abortion, and Paul’s question of where do men fit into the decision.  (234)

Note that in the above litany, the anti-life characters are described positively.  It is a definite good being communicated to the reader that Donna Asman, responsible for the deaths of thousands of unborn children, has her career of violation of the first civil right to life as a “commitment”–itself a powerfully positive word–“providing women of all income brackets with a choice.”  This positive description of Asman’s abortorium work needs to be translated by pro-lifers into something more accurate, such as:

                    Donna Asman’s obsession with lowering the population, especially of poor minority women, and making sure that they understand that killing their unborn children is their only choice and that they owe it to society not to bring more of their kind–African American, Hispanic, Vietnamese–into the world.

          Logue’s diction makes the main character obviously anti-life, a fatal flaw for a newspaperwoman who admits her bias to the reader.  Bemoaning the fact that she “had to cross the street and brave the cluster of protestors who were handing out pamphlets,” the seasoned pro-lifer will halt at Laura Malloy’s scorchingly negative continuation, “harassing the women who entered the clinic” (1).  This first page example of slapping pro-lifers continues throughout the book.

          Prepositions show relationships between nouns and pronouns (a very positive and pro-life thing for a part of speech to do).  An overuse of prepositions, however, can considerably slow down the reading and comprehension of a passage:

                    After I had been parked in front of the bondmen’s offices across the street from the station for five minutes, I saw Tennison walk in the main doors of the station.  I sat in my car for a few minutes to give him some time alone, then walked past the bronze Father of the Waters in the foyer of the building and down a long narrow hallway to his office.  (21; emphasis added)

Despite the use of “for” in adverbial phrases, all of the above underlined words “read” to the eye (as does the “to” in the verb infinitive “to give”) as prepositions and can distract the reader from the more important work of deciphering what the author tries to convey.  The same can be said for the use of “down,” although this is a truncation of the parallelism in the verb forms “walked past” and “walked down.”

          On several occasions Laura Malloy’s comments read more as intrusions than as reminiscences or clarifying thoughts.  Speaking about a fountain of which she is particularly fond, Malloy describes how she

                    went and stood by the fountain and watched the water squirt out of the fishes’ mouths in a ring around the nymphet.  Over the years, she had turned a light blue streaked-bronze color and seemed happy.  It was nice to see women’s art celebrating women in a public place.  (172)

Malloy’s comment about women’s art being celebrated in public does nothing more to enhance her character; the reader is quite aware that Malloy is an anti-life feminist.  It does, however, intrude a feminist political position unnecessarily.

          Of lesser importance, yet annoying, are the numerous grammatical, historical, and typographical errors in the novel.  Usually, readers are tolerant of such mistakes.  Sometimes, however, when a novel contains numerous errors, the quality of the work as a whole suffers.

          Two instances of grammatical errors cannot be attributed to the poor linguistic skills of the characters.  It is Laura Malloy, supposedly a professional newspaperwoman, who states “the business and editorial office of the Twin Cities Times were on University Avenue, quite close to the dividing point between Minneapolis and St. Paul” (54).  The principle of subject-verb agreement dictates that the sentence should either be “business and editorial offices … were” or “office … is on University Avenue.”  The other grammatical error is contained in a statement by the leading pro-life activist in the book, Tom Chasen: “One thing that is sacred to my wife and I is our time alone together” (67).  We ain’t got no ambiguity here.  The sentence should read “sacred to my wife and me.”

          Is “analyzation” a word, as used in “Well, if I may do a little Malloy analyzation here, you don’t give yourself a break” (136) or does Logue mean to say “analysis”?

          An example of an historical error in the book is Saint Thomas Aquinas’ statement, oft-repeated by anti-lifers, about when the soul enters the human body, which is mistakenly attributed to Saint Augustine: “But the quote that affected me the most … was by St. Augustine from 1140: `He is not a murderer who brings about abortion before the soul is in the body'” (185).  Saint Augustine died in the year 430 A.D.  Perhaps Malloy got confused; after all, anti-lifers are very confused people.  “Augustine” sounds a lot like “Aquinas” … much like “abortion” sounds like “reproductive choice.”

          Another historical inaccuracy occurs in Malloy’s brief history of abortion (cited by Kuda in her review):

                    –In 1812, the first abortion case in the United States was heard and the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was legal with the woman’s consent if it was done before quickening, which is when the woman feels the fetus move within her, usually near the mid-point of gestation….  At this time abortion was often called “menstrual regulation.”  (185)

I will stand–and even sit–corrected on this if need be, but a search of law databases using the terms “abortion” or “menstrual regulation” shows no such case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1812.

          Finally, the abortion clinic has a variety of names.  This can confuse the reader into thinking that there are several abortion clinics involved in bombings.  The abortorium is named the “Lakewood Family Planning Clinic” on page 1, “Family Planning Clinic” (capital letters) on page 206, and “family planning clinic” (lower case letters) elsewhere.  Finally, on page 234 it is called “Lakeview Clinic.”  Which one is it?

          Is dwelling on such minor points justifiable?  Isn’t this merely an ad hominem attack on an anti-life character, or, at the least, evidence that the author exercised her freedom of choice by choosing a poor printer?  No.  When the quality of an anti-life work suffers in so many areas, maybe this is evidence that the writer, having no respect for the unborn child, has subconsciously demonstrated her lack of respect for the born reader.

          But wait, the book is so bad … maybe Laura Malloy is, like her pet ferret Fabiola, a closet pro-lifer?  Maybe this book is written so poorly from an anti-life perspective that people will see through the anti-life rhetoric and become pro-lifers?

          The three novels which I have highlighted all have a dominant anti-life them.  I will now consider how certain novels which present a pro-life viewpoint contrast against these anti-life novels.  These are novels which are forcing cracks in the linguistic permafrost of anti-life writing.  I will change my presentation order, starting with Lois Lowry’s The Giver, published in 1993, and then proceed to Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn, which was published in 1989.

          There are few recent novels which primarily present a pro-life theme on infanticide and euthanasia.  [7]  Lois Lowry’s The Giver is one novel which incorporates infanticide and euthanasia themes and combines the two issues from a thematically pro-life perspective.

          In writing The Giver, Lowry has written a testament for respect for human life and thus qualifies as a hallmark of pro-life fiction.  It is a vision of the future, a utopia which is frighteningly possible.

          By definition utopian literature has the capability not only of depicting a futuristic society, but also of commenting on contemporary society.  Utopian literature may also serve to warn contemporary society of what frightening changes may occur in the future.  Consider this book a masterpiece along with B.F. Skinner’s Walden II–another American novel of a utopia gone wrong.  The Giver presents us with the utopia of American society gone wrong, where quality of life becomes the overriding concern versus the fact that human life, in whatever imperfect state it exists, is worth protecting.

          Set in a time when it will have been possible to eradicate emotions, Jonas, the twelve-year-old hero of the story, is selected by the “Community” in which he lives to be the “Receiver” of memories.  A corresponding character, the “Giver,” is an older man who imparts to the boy all his memories.  These memories include life as it once existed before the Community adopted stringent controls; they also include memories of emotions, especially the most powerful emotion–love.

          Pro-lifers immediately know to be alert to certain words.  When a novelist mentions the word “release,” pro-lifers think immediately that the book they are reading will concern itself with euthanasia.  In Lowry’s dystopia, however, the one term “release” applies not only to the killing of defective newborns, but also to the elderly, who have only a set number of years to be alive in the Community.

          One infanticide scene in The Giver is especially graphic.  In the following scene, Jonas’ father, whose job in the Community is that of “Nurturer,” decides to release a newborn baby, called a “newchild,” who hasn’t met the Community’s standards regarding birth weight.  Jonas is watching this on videotape.

                    [Jonas’] father began very carefully to direct the needle into the top of newchild’s forehead, puncturing the place where the fragile skin pulsed.  The newborn squirmed, and wailed faintly.  His father was saying, “I know, I know.  It hurts, little guy.  But I have to use a vein, and the veins in your arms are still too teeny-weeny.”  He pushed the plunger very slowly, injecting the liquid into the scalp vein until the syringe was empty.  Now he cleans him up and makes him comfy, Jonas said to himself….  The newchild, no longer crying, moved his arms and legs in a jerking motion.  Then he went limp.  He (sic) head fell to one side, his eyes half open.  Then he was still.  He killed it!  My father killed it! Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing.  (149-150)

          No doubt, anti-lifers will want to ban the book from high school libraries.  Cuyahoga County Public Library, which serves the metropolitan Cleveland area, rightfully catalogs this title as a work of juvenile fiction–rightfully, because it is appropriate that our young people should come to realize how close to practicing euthanasia our nation has come.

          Where Lowry’s The Giver is bold enough to tackle infanticide and euthanasia, Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn (1989) directly assaults the anti-life distortion of abortion.  Christopher Unborn may not qualify for inclusion in this study since it is, first, not an “American” (that is, North American) work of fiction.  If it is necessary to affix any label to it, then it is a Latin American work, a work of fiction by a Mexican author.  [8]  Fortunately for me, Fuentes’ novel has been translated into English and has made a stunning impact on critics in the United States.  [9]

          Fuentes himself is enigmatic; his political positions can be expressed in a series of complex sentences.  Fuentes, who is called a leftist, supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, yet he thinks that Cuba needs more democracy.  Although his novels are replete with the Roman Catholic fascinations of politics, sex, and religion, he has ridiculed what he has called the Catholic Church’s “repression” of sex.  Finally, although he states that he has found “stability” after being married and having children with his wife Sylvia, feminist critics think that Fuentes has a fear of women (Crossing Borders).

          Given these skeletal biographical facts, how could such a person write Christopher Unborn, which has such a profoundly dominant pro-life theme?  While he may have been thinking immediately of the holocausts which are universally known, Fuentes once declared that “Everybody is capable of violence in the twentieth century” (Crossing Borders).  Thus, pro-life academics and students can demonstrate successfully that even a so-called leftist author like Carlos Fuentes acknowledges that not even the womb is as safe as it once was.

          The plot of the novel is ultimately simple.  Christopher, an unborn child, recounts in vivid, omniscient narrator mode, the circumstances of his conception, his fertilization, and the nine months of his gestation in his mother’s womb.  Christopher realizes that he has been conceived mainly because his parents want to win the Christopher Contest, sponsored by the government of Mexico in celebration of the founding of the New World by Columbus.  This is the ostensible reason for the child’s existence.

          Fuentes has done in fiction what The Silent Scream does in video educational efforts: the unborn child is given a voice.  It is difficult to ignore a narrator as he describes how half of him was shot out of his father during his fertilization.  [10]  It is difficult to ignore a narrator who engages in frequent fetological descriptions according to the stages of his gestation, such as “I, Christopher, was a cluster of well-organized cells, with defined functions, learning the classic lesson, innocent that I was, about the unity of my person” (220).

          Later, Christopher enumerates a wide variety of activities which he calls “essential”:

                    My hands, for example, have grown more rapidly than the arms they’re attached to, they first appear with the fingers looking like buds; the last phalanx has emerged from the palms of my hands, my fingertips have formed, little tiny nails have appeared on all my fingers and toes, and the transparent and cartilaginous skeleton I had in my first four months is now bone and I move my arms and legs energetically; I have little accidents, I scratch my face with my nails unintentionally; I have pleasures: I suck my thumb incessantly; I make discoveries: I can touch my face.  (408)

          It is difficult to ignore a narrator who describes how his life seems threatened by other characters in the novel who may want him dead.  It is difficult to ignore a narrator who depicts from the unique perspective of one who resides in what should be a safe womb how assaulted he felt when his mother was violently raped.  Moreover, it is difficult not to personalize a narrator, an unborn child, who, in the reverse of apostrophe, directly addresses an absent character who becomes a character by virtue of his willing it so: the “Reader.”  [11]

          Finally, with the exception of the other thematically pro-life work I have discussed (Lowry’s The Giver), Christopher Unborn can give to the reader for his or her patient efforts to plow through 531 pages of sometimes incomprehensible word-play a satisfaction which is absent at the conclusion of the other thematically anti-life novels.  It is like the joy of being at a birth.  Does anybody not at least have a tear in his or her eye when a baby is born?  Or, considering the polar opposite, does anybody cry for joy as the parts of an unborn child are dragged piecemeal from the mother’s womb, sucked through the vacuum aspiration tube?  Can anyone imagine future fiction where characters proclaim with rapture, “Oh look, there’s the left arm!  Why, look at those pieces there!  That’s the head!  That’s the head of the fetus we’re aborting!”  Of course not.  While abortion may be sanitized as an abstract right in anti-life fiction, the birth of an unborn child still engenders happiness.

          In fact, what happens to Baby Ba is an added treat for the patient reader.  More importantly, the epiphany of Baby Ba is truly a surprise.  Do you want to know what happens to Baby Ba?  Do you want to know who Baby Ba is?

          I won’t tell you.  You’ll have to read the book.

          Listen.

          Listen carefully.

          Let us tell our students also to listen, to listen carefully, to the cracking of the ice, the fissures in the permafrost.

          Let us tell our students to listen for the voices of unborn children and comatose persons in our literature.  They are there, trapped beneath the massive weight of a decades-long linguistic permafrost.  Fortunately, the love we show the unborn and others who have been marginalized in American fiction may warm the surface of the frozen ground and may melt just enough of the ice so that these nightmare decades of living without our first civil right to life may soon come to a close.

                                                     Works Cited

Brautigan, Richard. The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971.

Christian, S. Rickly. The Woodland Hills Tragedy. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1985.

Crossing Borders: the Journey of Carlos Fuentes. Written by Stephen Talbot. Readings by Carlos Fuentes. Directed and edited by Joan Saffa. Produced by Novel Productions in association with KQED, Inc. Videocassette. [N.p.]: Novel Productions, 1989.

Fuentes, Carlos. Christopher Unborn. Trans. Alfred MacAdam and the author. New York: Farrar-Straus-Giroux, 1989. Trans. of Cristobal Nonato. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1987.

Gill, Gillian. Rev. of Still Explosion, by Mary Logue. Women’s Review of Books 10 (July 1993): 40.

Grusa, Jiri. The Questionnaire: or, Prayer for a Town and a Friend. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1982

King, John. Rev. of Christopher Unborn, by Carlos Fuentes. Times Literary Supplement (Dec. 15, 1989): 1386.

Kirn, Walter. She Needed Me. New York: Pocket Books, 1992.

Klett, Rex E. Rev. of Still Explosion, by Mary Logue. Library Journal 118 (Apr. 1, 1993): 135.

Kuda, Marie. Rev. of Still Explosion, by Mary Logue. Booklist 89 (Apr. 1, 1993): 1415.

Logue, Mary. Still Explosion. Seattle: Seal Press, 1993.

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Miller, J. Hillis. The Ethics of Reading: Kant, deMan, Eliot, Trollope, James, and Benjamin. New York: Columbia U P, 1987.

Robinson, Sue. The Amendment: a Novel. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1990.

Ruta, Suzanne. Rev. of Christopher Unborn, by Carlos Fuentes. New York Times Book Review (Aug. 20, 1989): 1.

Smith, Donald S. The Silent Scream: the Complete Text of the Documentary Film with an Authoritative Response to the Critics. Anaheim, CA: American Portrait Films Books, 1985.


    [1]        Thus, while numerous other novels may contain characters who have had abortions, they will not be considered here since these novels are usually only tangentially concerned with the first right-to-life issue.

    [2]        It is significant that the main character in this Minnesota-locale novel is not named a strongly-masculine “Mitch Viking” or “Todd Icelander.”  The name “Weaver Walquist” is particularly descriptive since it combines several items from the popular culture.  “Weaver” resonates with the associations “wimp” and one who is uncertain about where he or she is to go, someone who literally “weaves” from one position to another.  “Walquist” similarly resonates with at least one association, “quisling.”  In Kirn’s prose, Weaver can indeed be a traitor not only to his girlfriend, but also to his purported pro-life views.

    [3]        Not many reviewers have the conciseness of Rex E. Klett, a reviewer for Library Journal.  Designed with the needs of the librarian working in a public library in mind, Klett’s review can be condensed to an abstract of a simple sentence: “A workable prose, plot, and issue make this appropriate for larger collections” (135).  At the other extreme, consider Marie Kuda’s abstracted review for Booklist:

                        As (Laura Malloy, the main character in the novel) goes after both the bombing and the abortion story that led her to it, Logue develops both major sides of the abortion issue and includes a capsule history of abortion.  Then, what appears to be a bloody fetus is left on the doorstep of Bobby’s grieving girlfriend, and the pace accelerates to an explosive ending.  (1415)

Then, there is the ridiculously-biased and intellectually dishonest abstracted review which appeared in the Women’s Review of Books:

                        Malloy is a sympathetic and persuasive detective, cast in many ways in the mold of the old detective hero as eulogized by Raymond Chandler‑‑a tall loner (Malloy is five‑ten) who searches for social justice in the city streets. . . . From the first tragic explosion that destroys a beautiful young man, Logue holds our attention and gives us the kind of excitement we expect from detective‑thrillers. The violence is never gratuitous, however, as Logue wants not merely to entertain but to make some statement about abortion. . . . The pro‑choice politics are upfront, expressed even more forcefully by the plot line and the characterization than in the journalistic conclusions written up by the fictional detective.  (Gill 40)

    [4]        Perhaps, too, it was a Loguesque person who tried to kill one of the nation’s most effective lobbyists for the pro-life movement.  Ms. Jan Folger, Legislative Director for the Ohio Right to Life Society, recently had her car bombed.  Presumably perpetrated by anti-lifers, the car bombing is a compliment to Ms. Folger’s effectiveness with Ohio’s representatives, senators, and governor.  Whether the anti-life person responsible for the bombing thought of the idea on his or her own or was inspired to it by reading Logue’s novel is an intriguing question, but one which I cannot answer at this time.

    [5]        Of course, the revision would be purely to allow students to understand the contrast between an anti-life character and a pro-life one; we would never use the revision process to proselytize as anti-life feminist literary critics have done.

    [6]        Readers interested in one of the more well-known cases of unborn children’s bodies found in a dumpster may wish to read S. Rickly Christian’s account in The Woodland Hills Tragedy (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1985).

    [7]        We who study literature are, of course, all engaged in an archaeological effort: digging beneath accretions of anti-life criticism to get at the intent of a work which is essentially life-affirming.  Instances of pro-life literature abound; stories which are thematically pro-life are being “discovered” continuously.  For example, a literature discussion in one of my research paper classes excavated a thematic function behind Graham Greene’s short story “The Destructors.”  I must thank a student in the course, Rob Poelking, for first pointing out what should have been obvious: the story can be interpreted in pro-life terms to be a story of euthanasia.  In Greene’s story, a centuries-old house in London, a house which survived natural catastrophes as well as the human-made holocaust of World War II, is destroyed from within by a gang of British youths who seem to have nothing better to do than to destroy artifacts of their society.  My student’s insight, that the story could have euthanasia overtones, was, I think, strikingly brilliant.  The centuries-old house could be compared to an elderly person of today: both are unwanted by some in society who see no value in either.  The societal solution to the problem of old folks (and old buildings) which go nowhere and do nothing and do not contribute to the cash flow of the society is obvious: get rid of them both.

    [8]        There is another reason to justify the inclusion of this novel in the study.  Now that we are more aware than ever of the “inclusion” principle which is working to expand the canon, especially to include those works from non-Western writers, it is only appropriate that we acknowledge the importance of such a cosmopolitan author like Carlos Fuentes.

            Another conference participant informed me last night that a Czech novelist, Jiri Grusa, included in his novel The Questionnaire: or, Prayer for a Town and a Friend (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1982) a passage written from the perspective of the unborn child also.  In the light of Ms. Mercedes Wilson’s remarks about the oppression of the Third World by the anti-life First World nations, it is interesting and noteworthy that Second and Third World writers like Grusa and Fuentes are writing for the First World novels which are thematically pro-life.

    [9]        Some reviewers, however, seem to have missed the pro-life point of the novel completely, arguing that it is more concerned with criticizing the Reagan years in the United States than it is with criticizing certain social policies of the United States and the deleterious effects of those policies on a nation such as Mexico.  One reviewer’s abstract reaches the generic conclusion that

                        Five hundred years after the discovery and conquest of Latin America, the utopia has become dystopia. . . . Only caustic, corrosive humour, it seems . . . can release new energies from the dead hand of history and state power. . . . (King 1386)

Another reviewer’s abstract reads more as prophecy than literature review:

                        (Fuentes) has given an unborn babe the power of speech in order to bring the “odious eighties” to account. . . . Until American novelists take it upon themselves to muckrake the Reagan years with equal vigor, Carlos Fuentes, with this book, must rank as our leading North American political satirist. (Ruta 1)

    [10]       Another tangential thought about Christopher Unborn.  If the theme of the novel does not attract attention, then the playful and sometimes raunchy sexual scenes should.

    [11]       In several instances, Christopher addresses the reader as though he or she is a judge, of what judicial authority is uncertain.  The questions can then be begged of Christopher: are you on trial? what for? why are you on trial and not your parents? what will happen to you if you are found guilty?  The reader of the novel is addressed as “your honor” (178), “your worship the reader” (210), or “your worships” (249).  Does the Reader have the power merely to stop reading the book or does the Reader, especially by doing so, have the power to end Christopher’s life? In several instances, Christopher engages in word play with the quasi-judicial Reader, begging “mercy” from the Readers as though they were judges.

Categories
Papers

Cinematic Treatment of Abortion: Alfie (1965) and The Cider House Rules (1999)

          The icons of contemporary culture are cinematic.  Certainly, for example, the famous still photograph of the young woman kneeling and shrieking over the dead body of her fellow Kent State student is iconic.  Contemporary icons, however, demonstrate a kinetic quality not only to be merely enjoyed in a theater or at home, but also to be worthy of continued critical discussion.  The scene of epiphany between the tramp and the young woman whose sight he helped to restore in Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights is as poignant today as it was in 1931.  Kim Novak’s slow and sensual walk towards Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is as iconic as Gloria Swanson’s final walk towards the camera in Sunset Boulevard (1950) or the famous shower scene in Psycho (1960).  Moreover, films occupy an important part of contemporary culture.  Fiction, music, and poetry are not ignored in contemporary culture, but neither of these art forms has the glamour encapsulated in the phrase “Hollywood production”—a production which combines all of the previously mentioned art forms.

          This paper, however, is not concerned with the claims of film studies per se as it is with an evaluation of what films have to say on one of the most urgent issues of our culture, the right-to-life issue of abortion.  Time constraints and the quantity of material available on the first life issue do not allow a comprehensive examination of the other two life issues (infanticide and euthanasia).[1]  Thus, I will focus on two major abortion films, Alfie (1965) and The Cider House Rules (1999).  More importantly, what right-to-life criticism can say about these films is substantial and can indicate how other films on the life issues can be reviewed.

          While there has been some scholarly examination of abortion in late twentieth-century films,[2] much more has been written about documentary films on the life issues, and most of that academic writing can be classified as anti-life attempts to cope with the growth and success of the movement towards the reestablishment of the first civil right to life.  For example, although he struggles to account for the conversions of famous abortionists like Bernard Nathanson to the pro-life movement in narratological speculation about conversion rhetoric, Robert James Branham uses typical anti-life language to describe the impact of pro-life documentaries, saying that “Documentary films and videos have played a particularly crucial role in the campaign to limit abortion rights” (407).  He dismisses The Silent Scream and Eclipse of Reason, assigning unfounded and sinister motives behind the pro-life purpose of the films, ending his discussion with an apparent attempt at verbal irony, thus:

                    In their use of the convert tale to denigrate women’s rational capacities and diminish their moral responsibility, The Silent Scream and Eclipse of Reason seek to legitimize the prohibitive intervention of judicial and legislative agencies “on her behalf.”  By portraying women as ignorant, irrational, and gullible in order to deny them the ability to choose, the films themselves eclipse reason. (423)[3]

          Sometimes criticism of films from entrenched academically correct literary perspectives, especially if they are classified as “feminist” and meant to advance an anti-life agenda, can lead to, if not academic babble, then inflated or incredible claims loaded with all the politically correct terms from an anti-life feminist lexicon.  Consider the following passage from Karyn Valerius: “I argue that the gothicization of bourgeois, white pregnancy enacted by Rosemary’s Baby contests the essentialist conflation of women with maternity and the paternalistic medical and legal restrictions on women’s access to abortion prior to Roe v. Wade (1973), which enforced that conflation in practice” (119).  Maybe the problem is one of academic diction involving layers of subordination.  Isn’t there a simpler way of claiming that some films advance abortion?[4]

          Struggling to understand the academic discussion of contemporary films on the first right-to-life issue of abortion led to this year’s paper.  What does this art form have to say about abortion that is broadcasted to the public for their cultural consumption?  How should the public not only understand, but also respond to images which show the demeaning and destruction of human life?

Alfie (1965)

          The subject of this 1965 film (that it would be interesting to follow a sexual libertine as he goes from one woman to another) may no longer be as exciting as it once was, especially since films since the sixties are often raunchier in ways that were not possible for the sixties audience.  However, interest in Alfie can be renewed because of its two abortion sequences.

          The plot of the film (and both the stage version and the novel) is simple.  Set in Britain in the sixties, the film highlights Alfie Elkins, a sexual libertine who is adept in the ways of women.  The opening scenes show Alfie’s romantic control over Gilda, who sincerely loves him.  When she becomes pregnant and decides to keep the baby, Alfie is content to be a weekend father; while he genuinely loves Malcolm, his son, Alfie cannot accept the daily responsibilities of being a husband and father.  Gilda eventually asserts herself, telling Alfie that she no longer respects him and that Humphrey, another man who has loved her while she knew Alfie, wants to marry her and be a real father to Malcolm.  Alfie leaves Gilda and picks up Annie, known for being scrupulous about cleaning everything in his apartment.  When Alfie reads her diary, Annie leaves him for this breach of privacy.  Soon after this, Alfie develops tuberculosis and stays at a sanatorium where he meets Lily Clamacraft, the wife of his hospital roommate.  Alfie has a sexual interlude with an older woman, Ruby, while he is pursuing Lily.  Alfie and Lily have a quick adulterous affair, she becomes pregnant, and Alfie arranges to have an abortionist come to his apartment.  After the abortion is induced, Lily returns to her husband and children, and Alfie returns to his sexual libertinism.

          Stylistically, all three texts (the original drama and the novel written by Bill Naughton, and then later the film) have two important narratorial features.  First, Alfie communicates his wisdom about women and life to the audience in second-person language.  The second feature, an annoying consequence of the first, is that, when Alfie’s direct address of the reader and the audience occurs, we are to presume that the other characters in the background do not hear him address us.  Using second-person in the novel may have been an ordinary narratorial technique, especially since the reader cannot see the persons around the narrator; moreover, lower class people, such as Alfie, will often use second-person address to get their point across.  However, its use in the film, which is meant to shorten the distance between Alfie and the reader, contributes instead to a sense not only that Alfie is trying too hard to communicate his moral axioms, but also that his moral quips are as insincere as the possibility that people around him will not hear him as he speaks.  The use of second-person language has another important rhetorical element in Lily’s abortion episode that I will elaborate later. 

          Moreover, an important character aspect must be mentioned here before the abortion episode can be examined.  Alfie’s religious situation is just as vapid as his lifestyle.  Although the novel has an interesting few sentences about religion, Alfie’s carpe diem attitude toward life reduces religious principles to an aesthetic concern.  While the stage production and the film mention them briefly, the novel elaborates the religious elements more.  When Alfie happens to witness the baptism of the new child that Gilda had with Humphrey, now her husband, Alfie asserts:

                    I quite liked that little bit about the devil and God.  I think the sooner you get all that into a kid’s head the sooner he’ll know where he stands.  After all, each one of us, we need somebody to turn to in this life. I mean it’s not so much whether you do right or wrong, in my opinion, but that you know the difference between them. (185)[5]

          Although there are slight differences between the stage production and the novel, there are several important cinematic differences involving the two abortion discussions in the film, Alfie’s discussion with Gilda about her pregnancy and Lily’s abortion episode.  The first sequence involves only discussion of abortion; Alfie has made his girlfriend Gilda pregnant, and they review choices available to them.  The second episode actually involves the choice to kill the unborn child, although Lily’s abortion is technically an induction of abortion (the abortionist makes this clear in the film).

          It is easy to see that Gilda is an example of how a young woman who becomes pregnant should handle the matter of an untimely pregnancy.  Although the text of the drama makes it clear that she has tried abortifacients (10), once she realizes that she is a mother, Gilda asserts herself and decides to keep the baby.  Gilda has a community of women who help her after the baby is born, and, although she intends to work hard as a single mother and to raise her son, her situation persuades Humphrey to propose marriage.  They will marry, and towards the end of all three texts, Gilda and Humphrey are happily baptizing another child.

          In contrast, Lily’s abortion episode illustrates how a woman should not resolve the complications surrounding an untimely pregnancy, and the complications are serious.  Before her abortion, the novel clarifies that Lily’s family, especially her mother-in-law, would know that she had an adulterous affair and that the child she carries is not her husband’s.  After the abortion, Lily disappears from the action, presumably having gone back to her husband and her children and out of Alfie’s life.[6]

          The cinematic rendering of Lily’s abortion episode–about eighteen minutes, or nearly 15% of the entire film–is striking in six noteworthy respects, three of which seem relatively minor until they are examined in greater detail.  First, it is filmed almost entirely without the jaunty jazz music that accompanies Alfie on his other sexual excursions and daily events.  Music returns to the film only when Lily and Alfie leave the apartment, but it is notably subdued.  Second, the setting, the interior of Alfie’s apartment, is cluttered, not only because his former lover, Annie (the immaculate one who cleaned everything), has left, but also because the scene gives the viewer the unconscious perception that Alfie is as careless and out of order as the abortion itself.  Third, the scene is filmed in low light.  Either it is late afternoon or early evening outside, and the opening shot shows rain falling on the kitchen window, so the lighting inside the apartment is darker than normal–certainly much darker than the brightly lit room of Gilda, his former lover who chose to carry her child to term, get married, and live happily with her new husband and family. 

          Fourth, the absence of color in the abortion sequence is particularly noteworthy.  Even though many scenes are filmed in industrial areas of London where the weather contributes to the drabness of the background, other scenes in the film are bright with color.  Gilda’s final scene with Alfie, when she tells him that she does not respect him as much as she respects Humphrey, is bright with white diapers hanging to dry and colorful clothes surrounding them.  Humphrey discusses marriage with Gilda on a bench in a quiet London park during lunch, and the emotional resonance of the scene is positive, even though the background is industrial.  Alfie’s romantic interlude in another lover’s apartment (that of Ruby, an older, richer woman) is surrounded by fine furniture and sensual red and gold items.  Lily’s abortion scene in Alfie’s apartment, in contrast, is drab.  The dominant color is gray, and the emotional resonance of this color is common knowledge.[7]

          Fifth, Lily’s abortion scene is one of only few instances where language seems to disintegrate, an aspect vitally important for character development.  Language is often halted and truncated.  When Lily states, “You’re the man who–,” her voice trails off as though the words which would complete the sentence (“will perform the abortion” or “is the abortionist”) are unutterable.  Alfie illustrates an extreme disintegration of language; he silently weeps when he sees the body of his unborn child, and the silence continues for nearly a minute, a significant amount of time in a film, equivalent to the idea of “dead air” in radio.

          Finally, the sixth cinematic feature involves camera angles, which are significantly altered in the abortion episode.  After the initial view of rain outside the window, the camera shows us Lily’s feet, trudging up the stairs to Alfie’s apartment.  The camera angle is sometimes below the eye level of the characters, a move designed to make persons in the film seem more important than they are.  There are significant panoramic views of Alfie’s apartment.  The camera often follows characters as they move around the apartment, in contrast to other portions of the film where characters move in and out of the stationary camera position.  In one shot the camera presents Alfie’s back to the viewer so that we cannot read his face; the viewer sees Alfie only through a reflection in a mirror.  The inability to read Alfie’s facial expression changes, however, when he enters the kitchen where the abortion has occurred; the close-up as he views his unborn child shows just how tortured he is by the realization that he is responsible for having killed his child.[8]  After a cut to Lily, resting on a sofa in the other room of the apartment, the camera returns to Alfie, whom we see behind the glass of the side window of the kitchen, wiping away his tears.  The compilation of the details of these camera angles suggests that Lily’s abortion has generated excruciating sorrow and hopelessness instead of the security of her reputation that was the reason for the abortion in the first place.

          The film seems to give final commentary on the abortion episode when the sequence is merged with the baptism scene of Gilda’s new child by Humphrey.  The baptism is obviously joyous for Gilda and her family.  For Alfie, however, the baptism is a symbolic abortion; he has lost Malcolm to the perfected family of a stable father and mother, just as Lily and he have lost their child through abortion.

The Cider House Rules (1999)

          If Alfie was the British version of an abortion film, then The Cider House Rules (1999) is its American counterpart.[9]  The plot of the film is much simpler than that of the novel on which it is based.  The six hundred pages of the novel are reduced to less than two hundred in the screenplay, and, of course, the number of pages is reduced further because each page of the screenplay has less than one-third the quantity of words that a normal book would have.  Moreover, numerous scenes of John Irving’s effort to sound Dickensian were eliminated for the American film audience.

          Set at an orphanage in St. Cloud’s, Maine during World War II, the film depicts the lives of the orphan Homer Wells and Wilbur Larch, who not only births babies of unwed mothers who come to the orphanage, but also performs abortions for those mothers who request them.  Homer grows up in the orphanage and at first disassociates himself from Larch’s abortion practice.  Homer leaves the orphanage with a young couple, Wally and Candy, who had their child aborted there, and secures a job as an apple picker on the estate of Wally’s mother.  When Wally goes off to war, Homer falls in love with Candy.  During one apple picking season, Mr. Rose, the leader of the migrant apple pickers, impregnates his daughter, and Homer aborts her.  After performing this abortion, Homer decides to return to the orphanage where he assumes the role of the abortionist Larch, who had died by an accidental overdose of ether.

          When the text of Irving’s novel is contrasted against that of the screenplay and then the film itself, the omissions are significant.  In the novel Homer experiences several conflicts about Larch’s abortion practice. Although Homer is not identified as having come from any religious background, his moral qualms about assisting Larch with abortions are covered in several passages.  In one such passage, Homer recounts fetological evidence:

                    Homer Wells had seen the products of conception in many stages of development: in rather whole form, on occasion, and in such partial form as to be barely recognizable, too.  Why the old black-and-white drawings should have affected him so strongly, he could not say.  In Gray’s [Anatomy] there was the profile view of the head of a human embryo, estimated at twenty-seven days old.  Not quick, as Dr. Larch would be quick to point out, and not recognizably human, either: what would be the spine was cocked, like a wrist, and where the knuckles of the fist (above the wrist) would be, there was the ill-formed face of a fish (the kind that lives below light, is never caught, could give you nightmares).  The undersurface of the head of the embryo gaped like an eel—the eyes were at the sides of the head, as if they could protect the creature from an attack from any direction.  In eight weeks, though still not quick, the fetus has a nose and a mouth; it has an expression, thought Homer Wells.  And with this discovery—that a fetus, as early as eight weeks, has an expression—Homer Wells felt in the presence of what others call a soul. (168; emphasis in original)

After this speculation, Homer recognizes the humanity of the unborn child and decides not to perform abortions.[10]

          Homer’s position against killing the unborn quickly changes, however, for several reasons.  Besides the fact that Irving himself was stridently anti-life when he wrote the novel,[11] Homer’s abortion of the baby created by incest coalesces his principle moral belief that he should be “of use” in the world.[12]  Homer is a typical “lost boy”—one who has no moral compass besides the utilitarian perspective of being “of use” on which to base his decisions, as this passage in the novel illustrates:

                    But what he already knew, he knew, was near-perfect obstetrical procedure and the far easier procedure—the one that was against the rules.

                             He thought about rules.  The sailor with the slashed hand had not been in a knife fight that was according to anyone’s rules.  In a fight with Mr. Rose, there would be Mr. Rose’s own rules, whatever they were.  A knife fight with Mr. Rose would be like being pecked to death by a small bird, thought Homer Wells.  Mr. Rose was an artist—he would take just the tip of a nose, just a button or a nipple.  The real cider house rules were Mr. Rose’s.

                             And what were the rules at St. Cloud’s?  What were Larch’s rules?  Which rules did Dr. Larch observe, which ones did he break, or replace—and with what confidence?  Clearly Candy was observing some rules, but whose?  And did Wally know what the rules were?  And Melony—did Melony obey any rules? wondered Homer Wells. (379; emphasis in original)

          In the film, however, and the companion screenplay, these moral musings are reduced to quick one-word and one-line ruminations, poorly expressed and even more poorly dramatized.  In one scene, when Homer and Candy have sex, even though she is attached to Wally, they emerge from the woods, blandly claiming that their having sex was “right” (114).[13]  Similarly, the only instance where the profundity of “rules” is discussed is a scene where the rules of the cider house are read to the migrant workers.  Mr. Rose exclaims, “Somebody who don’t live here made them rules.  Them rules ain’t for usWe the ones who make up them rules.  We makin’ our own rules, every day.  Ain’t that right, Homer?” (152; italics in original).  Mr. Rose’s feeble assertion of the inapplicability of the few rules pertaining to the cider house is supposed to transfer to the viewer as commentary about moral and ethical rules in real life.  That the transference is, at best, limp is the supreme fault of Irving’s overly preachy novel.[14]

          Chapter eight is one of two crucial scenes in the film.  Titled “She Died of Ignorance,” in this sequence a young woman who had come to the orphanage after a botched abortion presents Larch with an opportunity to confront Homer about his opposition to abortion.  Larch emphatically asks Homer what he would have done if the young woman came to him a few months earlier, and one must think deeply to recognize the inherent either/or fallacy of the question.  Homer could have ignored the young woman’s request for an abortion or could have performed one on her. However, a third option was possible: she could have given birth to the child, which exercise of her freedom of reproductive choice could have led to two other choices (either raising the child herself or getting married and having her husband help her in raising the child).  Although the bulk of this sequence is didactic, the ending imagery is particularly so; the viewer sees Larch standing with a sunset behind him, whose rays seem to emanate from him, while Homer and another boy from the orphanage are digging the young woman’s grave.  Throughout the digging, Larch’s badgering continues.

          Chapter thirty‑one is the second of the two crucial abortion episodes in the film, and, cinematically, the abortion episode in The Cider House Rules parallels that in Alfie.  In this sequence Homer decides to abort Rose Rose’s child created by an incestuous relationship with her father.  It is remarkable that, in contrast to the abortion scene in Alfie (nearly eighteen minutes), this one takes all of three and a half, or a little over 2% of the entire film.  Like Alfie’s opening image, the abortion in Cider House Rules shows the viewer a window with rain falling outside.  The rain accentuates the darkness of night.  There is little dialogue between characters, and the action is slow paced.  There is weak or no music throughout the abortion scene, except at the end; like Alfie, even this emergence of the familiar theme is slow and soft.  Close-ups are the dominant camera angle, although a couple significant deviations occur: first, the camera is at eye level when Homer is laying out his surgical instruments, Rose Rose sitting in the background; second, at the end of the sequence Mr. Rose is filmed from a distance (he has left the building where the abortion occurred and is moving spasmodically in the rain as he screams his anguish).

          It is interesting, though, that Homer’s actions appear sacerdotal in at least two respects—a quality that is evident in the novel more so than in the screenplay.  Irving’s intention (comparing abortion to a divine attribute) was made clear in the novel.  Irving writes about Rose’s abortion in such a way that the sacerdotal role that Homer plays is clear:

                    He chose the curette of the correct size.  After the first one, thought Homer Wells, this might get easier.  Because he knew now that he couldn’t play God in the worst sense; if he could operate on Rose Rose, how could he refuse to help a stranger?  How could he refuse anyone?  Only a god makes that kind of decision.  I’ll just give them what they want, he thought.  An orphan or an abortion.

                             Homer Wells breathed slowly and regularly; the steadiness of his hand surprised him.  He did not even blink when he felt the curette make contact; he did not divert his eye from witnessing the miracle. (568)

The divine/sacerdotal functions of abortion at the orphanage are stated explicitly by Homer when he writes to Larch, saying, “I know what you have to do—you have to play God” (123; italics in original).[15]

          Although wearing all-white surgical clothing is not as significant or extraordinary as it may seem at first, coupled with other items in the sequence, the cumulative effect is that Homer’s character is assuming that of a priest or minister approaching an altar where divine power resides.  Homer deliberately announces the name of each surgical instrument, sotto voce, as though he is performing some rite before the actual abortion, much like a priest would utter certain prayers before the act of consecration.

          The second sacerdotal aspect of the abortion scene is that, once the abortion has begun, the rite which Homer is enacting requires that only he should be present.  Homer had earlier admonished Mr. Rose that he could stay to witness the abortion as long as he made himself “of use”—the pet mantra of the Larch-Wells abortion axis.  Thus, unlike a Mass or other religious service where the community is drawn into the ritual, Homer’s action parallels the esoteric pagan rituals which could only be performed by qualified ministers.

          Thus, the entire abortion sequence—solemn, somber, silent—seems like a corruption of a Catholic Mass, but, then, that would be appropriate for an activity that kills human life.

A Right-to-Life Criticism of the Films

          Critiquing what are called masterworks in the popular culture requires courage.  For example, The Cider House Rules was hailed as an American “classic” and won a couple of Academy Awards.  The DVD cover sickeningly states that the film “tells a compelling and heartwarming story about how far a young man must travel to find the place where he truly belongs!”—a marketing statement which not only avoids the more sordid fact that Irving’s novel is about abortion as much as it skirts the real issue of the film so that people buying DVDs would not get upset by the controversial issue it concerns and possibly boycott the company.  The abortion subplot in Alfie is equally avoided.  The closest that the film’s DVD cover comes to mentioning the abortion subplot occurs in these words: “For those who want more, there is beneath the surface a lingering tragedy, simply and poignantly told, about the taker and the taken.”

          Pro-life academics, however, must courageously view the films for what they are, not so much stories about love between the characters, but about abortion.  Fortunately, once we have learned the vocabulary of specific fields (in this case, film studies) we can review the items in the culture for their right-to-life content and determine whether they are lacking a balanced viewpoint.

          Following this principle, although both can be classified as films worthy of pro-life study, in my estimation Alfie scores much higher than Cider House Rules.  Alfie himself is a static character, but the persons with whom he interacts are dynamic.  Gilda becomes a liberated woman and mother.  Humphrey is the real hero of the production, rising to the occasion to help a single mother in her time of need.  The happy resolution of Gilda’s untimely pregnancy is balanced by the disaster of Lily’s abortion, and the cinematic rendering of the abortion is honest to human emotion.

          Characters in The Cider House Rules are just the opposite: Larch is a preachy, confrontational aging abortionist who cannot understand why a young man like Homer would not want to do abortions; Homer is a vapid youth whose interest in discovering the benefits of the rules by which human life develops is cursory, if not flip.  If given a choice, which characters in which film do you think our students would want to emulate?

Works Cited

Alfie. Dir. Lewis Gilbert. Perf. Michael Caine, Shelley Winters, Millicent Martin, Julia Foster, Jane Asher, Shirley Anne Field, Vivien Merchant, and Eleanor Bron. 1965. DVD. Paramount, 2000.

Boggs, Joseph M., and Dennis W. Petrie. The Art of Watching Films. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Branham, Robert James. “The Role of the Convert in Eclipse of Reason and The Silent Scream.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 77 (1991): 407-26.

Burleigh, Michael. “Euthanasia and the Third Reich.” History Today 40.2 (1990): 11-6.

Campbell, Josie P. John Irving: a Critical Companion. Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers. Westport, CN: Greenwood, 1998.

The Cider House Rules. Dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Perf. Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd, and Michael Caine. 1999. DVD. Miramax, 1999.

Dreher, Rod. “‘Cider House’s’ Abortion: Right vs. What Works.” Rev. of The Cider House Rules, by John Irving. Christian Science Monitor 7 Feb. 2000: 11.

Givner, Jessie. “Reproducing Reproductive Discourse: Optical Technologies in The Silent Scream and Eclipse of Reason.” Journal of Popular Culture 28:3 (1994): 229‑44.

Harter, Carol C., and James R. Thompson. John Irving. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

Irving, John. The Cider House Rules. Toronto: Bantam, 1985.

—. The Cider House Rules: A Screenplay. New York: Hyperion, 1999.

—. My Movie Business: a Memoir. New York: Random House, 1999.

—. Trying to Save Piggy Sneed. New York: Arcade, 1996.

Naughton, Bill. Alfie. New York: Ballantine Books, 1966.

—. Alfie: A Play in Three Acts. London: Samuel French, 1963.

Paris, Ginette. The Sacrament of Abortion. Trans. Joanna Mott. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1992. Trans. of L’Enfant, l’Amour, la Mort. Quebec: Editions Nuits Blanches, 1990.

Pernick, Martin S. The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of “Defective” Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.

Pickering, Barbara A. “Women’s Voices as Evidence: Personal Testimony Is [sic] Pro-Choice Films.” Argumentation & Advocacy: The Journal of the American Forensic Association 40 (summer 2003): 1-22.

Valerius, Karyn. “Rosemary’s Baby, Gothic Pregnancy, and Fetal Subjects.” College Literature 32.3 (summer 2005): 116-35.

                                                 Works Consulted

Cora Unashamed. Dir. Deborah M. Pratt. Perf. Regina Taylor, and Cherry Jones. 2000. DVD. PBS Pictures, 2000.

Lake, Randall, and Barbara A. Pickering. “Argumentation, the Visual, and the Possibility of Refutation: An Exploration.” Argumentation 12 (198): 79-93.

McFarland-Icke, Bronwyn. Rev. of Medical Films, Ethics, and Euthanasia in Nazi Germany: The History of Medical Research and Teaching Films of the Reich Office for Educational Films/Reich Institute for Films in Science and Education, 1933-1945, by Ulf Schmidt. ISIS: Journal of the History of Science in Society 4.4 (2003): 757-8.


    [1]  Some scholars have already begun to address the other life issues.  See, for example, Michael Burleigh’s analysis of Nazi films—not only documentaries, but also fictional accounts—meant to persuade the public to adopt euthanasia, such as Ich klage an [I Accuse] (1941), and Martin S. Pernick’s work on The Black Stork (1917), an infanticide and euthanasia film by the American eugenicist Harry Haiselden.

    [2]  For discussion of The Cider House Rules I particularly recommend Josie P. Campbell’s John Irving: a Critical Companion (Greenwood, 1998), Rod Dreher’s “‘Cider House’s’ Abortion: Right vs. What Works” (a review in The Christian Science Monitor), and Carol C. Harter and James R. Thompson’s John Irving (Twayne, 1986).

    [3]  Other critics attempt to revile these pro-films using terminology that borders on ad hominem.  Consider, for example, Jessie Givner’s analysis of the importance of the unborn child in The Silent Scream, paraphrasing concepts from several critics:

                        If the fetus is placed in a sacred, holy sphere the technologies which image the fetus are similarly associated with that sacred realm.  [….]  The notion of the sacred fetus and the sacred high-tech image of the fetus belongs to a whole fantasy of immaculate conception. (235)

    [4]  Of course, not all anti-life criticism should be ignored, especially when it can be used by pro-life theorists as well.  For example, besides stating that “Argument scholars must recognize the value of [personal testimonies of mothers who aborted],” Barbara A. Pickering also suggests that “incorporating the subjective realm of personal testimony as an acceptable form of proof is crucial to building a model of argument theory which embraces feminist thought” (20).  Thus, for Pickering,

                        Personal experience in the form of women’s voices must be incorporated as a legitimate form of proof if argumentation theory is to expand beyond its traditional parameters to a more inclusive theory which values the contributions that feminist theories can make to our understanding of argument in public policy discourse. (21)

Since the majority of women are pro-life, and since being feminist necessarily means supporting the first civil right to life, applying Pickering’s principles would greatly help to validate the voices of pro-life women who support the first civil right to life when they express their desire for pro-life legislation.

    [5]  The only other reference to religious principles in the novel is a casual one about purgatory and heaven.  In his typically skewered sense of life, Alfie assets that

                        When you get down to it, the average man must know in his own heart what a rotten bleeder he is[;] he don’t want someone good around to keep reminding him of it.  That’s why a good bloke will always prefer to marry a real bitch.  It means he’s doing his purgatory on earth.  Every time she does the dirty on him he’s got another reason for looking up to heaven. (153)

    [6]  The film almost exactly matches the original drama of 1963.  While the abortion episode summarized above is followed closely in all three texts, there are some differences in the film.  As if to convey to the audience that he isn’t such a bad character after all as to arrange for an abortionist, Alfie restores the twenty-five quid that Lily paid to the abortionist by secreting the money in her purse.  In the stage production, Alfie quibbles with Lily over how much to pay to the abortionist and does not return the money to her.  Another difference is that, immediately after he sees the body of his aborted child, Alfie runs out of his apartment and needs to confide in a male friend, an episode missing from the other texts.

    [7]  Boggs and Petrie discuss the emotional reactions to various colors in chapter seven of their The Art of Watching Films (McGraw-Hill, 2004).

    [8]  The novel states Alfie’s anguish more emphatically:

                        Then I think how he had been quite perfect, and the thought crossed my mind: “You know what you did, Alfie, you murdered him.”  I mean what a stroke for the mind to come out with, a thing like that.  “Yes, mate, you set it all up and for thirty nicker you had him done to death.”  And then it struck me that the main idea in my head had been how to get it done a fiver cheaper. (207; italics in original)

    [9]  It is probably purely coincidental that Michael Caine, who, in the role of Alfie, arranged the abortion in the earlier film, becomes the abortionist himself in this later film.

    [10]  Homer does not, however, have any moral qualms about being complicit in abortion.  Chapter three of the DVD shows Homer carrying aborted remains to the incinerator outside the orphanage.

    [11]  Consider, for example, the following excerpt, where Irving’s hostility toward right-to-lifers is evident by the use of derogatory terminology and ad hominem:

                        Think of the Right-to-Life movement today.  It is fueled by something stronger than a concern for the rights of the unborn.  (Proponents of the Right-to-Life position show very little concern for children once they’re born.)  What underlies the Right-to-Life message is a part of this country’s fundamental sexual puritanism.  Right-to-Lifers believe that what they perceive as promiscuity should not go unpunished; girls who get pregnant should pay the piper [….]  Let doctors practice medicine.  Let religious zealots practice their religion, but let them keep their religion to themselves. (My Movie 38-9; emphasis in original)

Moreover, in an essay titled “My Dinner at the White House”, Irving admits that he “gave a rousing speech in favor of abortion rights, and lambasting [President] George Bush—from an exclusively Planned Parenthood perspective, mind you” (Trying 166).

    [12]  Chapter two on the DVD version of the film contains the key philosophical foundation of this abortion movie.  It is here that the abortionist Larch utters his belief that people should be “of use.”

    [13]  This scene is chapter twenty-four of the DVD.

    [14]  This scene is chapter thirty-two of the DVD.  The use of the many italicized terms suggests that Mr. Rose’s words should be pronounced forcefully.  However, the actor recites the words in a dejected, quiet tone.  Perhaps this is not so much bad acting as evidence that the father is so demoralized after committing incest with his daughter and then having an abortion performed on her that he cannot even assert himself regarding a set of relatively innocuous rules.

    [15]  The idea that abortion could serve a sacerdotal or divine function was explicitly formulated about five years after the novel was published by the anti-life author Ginette Paris, whose 1992 work The Sacrament of Abortion considers abortion a sacred act (8), “a kind of sacrifice” (34), merely “another way of choosing death over life” (51; italics in original), and, finally, “a sacrifice to Artemis” (107).