Saturday Evening Post
Irving / Ernaux / Shannon
With a nationally-known late-term abortion provided assassinated last weekend and Americans feeling less certain of reproductive rights than at any time in the preceding thirty years, it may be a good time to look at the kind of books that advanced thinking on a woman's right to privacy when confronted with an unplanned pregnancy.
At the top of everyone's list is John Irving's brave 1985 title Cider House Rules, a straightforward narrative from Random House that deals with the pain of unwanted pregnancy on two levels, at the orphanage and as a victim of rape. The book is set in rural Maine at a time before abortions were legal in the United States.
Annie Ernaux's stunning, shocking memoir L’Événement (Happening) is a searing memoir describing in chilling detail an initial and unsuccessful attempt at a self-attempted abortion in the days before abortion was legal in France. From her straightforward account, it is very easy to see how it is that so many young women kill themselves and their foetuses alike when not extended a right to choose. Not even the reviewer at the ultraconservative National Review, Emmy Chang, could find it in her heart to denounce the book.
Our own LA writer John Shannon devoted a considerable subplot to his excellent book "The Devils of Bakersfield" to a problem pregnancy experienced by the protagonist's unwed teen daughter. Overlayed by the troubling fundamentalist cauldron that is Bakersfield, the book presents dicey social history on two levels. By the way, it pleases me to remind the folks here that Shannon was written up in the Daily Breeze just this past week in conjunction with his current release "Palos Verdes Blue" (wonderful title!), another tale of class conflict between entitled Anglo South Bay surfers---a type I know well from my own South Bay adolescence---and Latino day laborers working the carefully-groomed estates of the Peninsula.
But one now fears that a generation who reaped the benefits of a climate of choice has now lost its nerve in the face of the latest rightwing act of domestic terror. One senses they will be obliged to learn the hard way that rights are not won forever in a moment or a single court case; they must be sustained by each new generation. The stories of women dying in alleys and the uncertainty of visiting doctors who are not really credentialled and certainly can't handle any emergency are bound to be presented to a new generation of Americans once again. A few books from the battles along the way may remind those who wish to preserve their right to choose exactly what they're fighting for.