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BOOK REVIEW

Sharing their abortion stories

September 28, 2008|Carolyn Kellogg

The COVER is striking: a very pregnant blond with her arm around a dark-haired woman whose T-shirt reads "I had an abortion." The dark-haired woman's hand is on the other's belly; the women look at each other, smiling. With the acrimonious arguments over choice, this photograph, this moment, seems almost impossible. Can two women who've made opposite choices about pregnancy really talk to each other?

In "Abortion & Life," Jennifer Baumgardner (Akashic Books: 250 pp., $16.95 paper) sets out to find the middle ground. She's the pregnant one on the cover; the other is Gillian Aldrich, who, with Baumgardner, made the 2005 documentary "I Had an Abortion," from which the heart of the book is taken: Women of multiple generations, photographed wearing those T-shirts, tell their abortion stories. Each woman's story is so different, and they face such a range of pressures and challenges, that it illustrates how personal and complicated the choice to not have a child can be.

Baumgardner frames the issue by detailing the history of abortion, explaining the "I Had an Abortion" project, the media storm around the T-shirts and the evolution of the women's rights movement. She asks thoughtful questions: "Why aren't there more after-abortion resources? If you admit you are sad about your abortion, does that mean abortion is wrong?" And "If you aren't at all sad about getting rid of your pregnancy, can you admit that publicly without being called a monster?" The dual drives of feminism and activism are strong, and the perspective is firmly pro-choice. Nevertheless, Baumgardner's dedication to widening and civilizing the discussion is clear. She instructs, hopefully; this book belongs in the hands of a new generation of abortion-rights advocates, who can benefit from its history and might strive to answer its difficult questions.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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