The XX Factor

Book of the Week: “Dispatches from the Abortion Wars”

Carole Joffe’s new book, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars , chronicles the post- Roe rise of the anti-abortion movement in America and what Joffe describes as women’s epic struggle to maintain access to a lawful medical procedure. As she notes in her preface, the author intends to provide an unbalanced account, imagining herself in the trenches, “as a war correspondent, embedded with troops on one side of the conflict.” But Joffe’s book transcends the typical screed against landmark anti-choice legislation. Instead she focuses on exposing the insidiousness and ubiquity of the bias against abortion in public life. After the invasion of Iraq, for example, President George W. Bush grilled potential appointees to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad about their stance on Roe v. Wade . Joffe also highlights the plight of clinic workers-the courageous foot soldiers in her elaborate military conceit-who are both openly harassed and quietly discriminated against by local businesses.

For some, this will be a long-awaited battle cry against the shrill accusations of organizations like the National Right to Life Committee. For more moderate abortion proponents, Joffe’s rhetoric may be off-putting. She writes of patients’ profound gratitude and relief and the “deep bonds” among providers sustained by occasional gatherings and “lively Listservs.” Her cloying encomiums to the forcible expulsion of unwanted endometrial tissue may unsettle some supporters of reproductive rights-the way Joffe describes it, the controversial procedure sounds more like a love-in than the termination of a pregnancy.

With the election of Barack Obama fresh in her mind, Joffe ends the book on an optimistic note. If the new administration’s disavowal of so-called pregnancy crisis centers is any indication, then Joffe and her acolytes have reason to hope.