Roe, Dobbs, and Reproductive Justice Lit: A Reading List for Abortion Advocacy

The history of abortion in the United States is the story of my life—or my life’s work. I’ve run a clinic since 1971, two years before Roe and now, fifty-three years later—two years post-Roe—I’m still at it, running Choices Women’s Medical Center.

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Since the roll-back in women’s human rights that was the Dobbs decision two years ago, I’ve redoubled my efforts to train the next generation of abortion providers and to ensure the history of the reproductive rights movement is not just preserved but accessible. In order to make sense of how we got here, I wrote Choices: A Post-Roe Abortion Rights Manifesto (Skyhorse, 2023)—it’s both the beginnings of a strategic path forward and the story of reproductive justice in this country.

The books I recommend here were all written with Roe in place, but with pre-Roe horrors fresh in the collective memory. They represent a range of genres—reportage, memoir, fiction, oral history, political theory—but all make the case that having control over our own bodies is the bottom line for human rights.

A fresh wave of post-Dobbs publishing is upon us—and a tsunami is coming in time for the election. But if the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior, the Dems are not going to save us.


The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service - Kaplan, Laura

Laura Kaplan, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service

Laura Kaplan joined the Jane collective of “regular” women who provided more than twelve thousand abortions in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade in 1971, a year before the abortion service was busted by Chicago police. Since Roe was overturned, these DIY doctors have gotten documentary and feature film treatment in a sort of perverse nostalgia.

Kaplan’s book, an early account of these outlaw histories, was written nearly thirty years before Dobbs and thus doesn’t traffic in hindsight, just insight. For similar reasons, the best film is the 1996 doc Jane: An Abortion Service, by Kate Kirtz and Nell Lundy.

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty - Roberts, Dorothy

Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

Roberts, a law professor at Penn, exposes the myriad ways racism influences American perception of Black motherhood, and how this affects politics, law, and policy. You don’t need to look further than the Hyde Amendment—passed in 1976 and still in place—to clock the disrespect from mainstream Dems and feminists to Black women’s reproductive needs.

Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe V. Wade (Revised) - Solinger, Rickie

Rickie Solinger, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade

An historian, Solinger narrates the differing impact of pre-Roe reproductive rights on white and Black women, a lens that proves especially clear later in the book when she discusses contemporary attitudes towards abortion, and how they developed based on race and class politics evident in the pre-Roe era.

An early example of a white feminist repurposing her privilege in the service of understanding the overlapping oppressions Black women face.

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade - Fessler, Ann

Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade

Ann Fessler was a professor at RISD when she began interviewing women who’d been sent to maternity homes in the years between WWII and 1973, when some 1.5 million babies were surrendered under duress. (Fessler had skin in the game, as she was an adoptee herself.) She excavated a horrific history of abuse, gaslighting, and baby-snatching.

More than a hundred women tell their stories, contextualized by trenchant chapter introductions on post-war mores and access to contraception. Read, weep.

Abortion & Life - Baumgardner, Jennifer

Jennifer Baumgardner, Abortion & Life

This oral history/political theory text does triple-duty demystifying just who has abortions and why. (So many reasons, but a lack of money and support tend to drive the “choice.”)

These personal accounts illuminate issues of pregnancy termination seldom confronted by the pro-choice establishment and wholly ignored by the pro-life movement, and the accompanying portraits (by photographer Tara Todras-Whitehill) of people who’ve had abortions include Loretta Ross, Gloria Steinem, Ani DiFranco, and Florence Rice.

My Notorious Life - Manning, Kate

Kate Manning, My Notorious Life

This riveting historical novel harmonizes with the real-life story of Madame Restell, the nineteenth century abortionist who slit her throat in her Fifth Avenue mansion after years of being hammered by the notorious prig Anthony Comstock. Manning’s creation follows Axie Muldoon, a midwife who goes by the title “Madame X.”

Axie navigates the bleak landscape of women’s health in the 1860s, all while fighting for women’s rights and battling the sanctimonious Society for the Suppression of Vice. Page-turner par excellence.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights - Pollitt, Katha

Katha Pollitt, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Pollitt, whose long-running column for The Nation is always sharp and funny, examines hostile attitudes towards reproductive justice and then reveals her own pro-abortion position derived from years interviewing abortion patients themselves. The upshot: abortion is a “moral good”—for women and for society. Case closed! (Oh, wait….)

Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique - Peoples, Whitney

Loretta J. Ross, Lynn Roberts, Erika Derkas, Whitney Peoples, Pamela Bridgewater Touré (editors), Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique

Loretta Ross is one of those “if you know, you know” feminist figures:an architect of Reproductive Justice—basically, “reproductive rights” through an intersectional lens—and founder of SisterSong Women of Color Health Collective, a reproductive health entity rooted in Black feminism.

This edited volume features writers who find commonalities between the fight for safe reproduction and other issues, such as environmentalism, poverty, and incarceration. One writer excavates the roots of gynecology in the consent-free torture experiments of J. Marion Sims (the “Father of Gynecology”) on enslaved women, a medical origin story leads nicely into the consent-free and deadly experiments on Puerto Rican women that gave us The Pill.

A Spark of Light - Picoult, Jodi

Jodi Picoult, A Spark of Light

In a storyline torn from the headlines and totally relatable to me as a clinic owner, a gunman invades a reproductive health clinic. Working backwards, Picoult examines the lives and motivations of the hostages inside, including a nurse, a doctor, and a pro-life protester disguised as a patient. The story handily portrays cultural attitudes towards abortion as well as the real reasons the procedures take place. Complexity and empathy are the gifts of fiction!

Choice Words: Writers on Abortion - Finch, Annie

Annie Finch, Choice Words: Writers on Abortion

In this anthology of poems, stories, and essays, writers (like Joyce Carol Oates, Audre Lorde, and Ursula K. Le Guin) narrate abortion experiences and “defy shame” over the cultural fear of abortion.

The Family Roe: An American Story - Prager, Joshua

Joshua Prager, The Family Roe: An American Story

Norma McCorvey is the wildly interesting and tragic woman behind the pseudonym “Jane Roe.” Prager’s biography focuses not only on Norma’s life (three daughters, multiple toggles between pro- and anti-, addiction) but also the politics surrounding abortion in America and the stories of Linda Coffee, Mildred Jefferson, and Curtis Boyd—figures who are not household names, but who helped create the conditions for Roe—including the actual Roe baby, whom Prager tracked down and portrays with sensitivity.


Choices: A Post-Roe Abortion Rights Manifesto - Hoffman, Merle

Choices: A Post-Roe Abortion Rights Manifesto by Merle Hoffman is available via Skyhorse.

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