Finally: A smart book about abortion that doesn’t hew to a party line.
Sarah Erdreich’s Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, is an incisive and comprehensive overview of the current state of the reproductive rights movement. Informed with a series of detailed and lush interviews along with extensive research, the text zeros in on a number of key issues like generational divides in reproductive rights organizing and the narrowing options for medical professionals looking for abortion training in the United States.
Right from the start, Generation Roe presents challenges to traditional narratives about abortion. This is a novel move; typically, books about abortion focus on narrow, party-line politics. Yet, as Erdreich points out, the politically driven focus leaves out women who don’t experience abortion in the “acceptable” way; in other words, those who don’t arrive at the choice easily, and those who experience regret rather than relief after their abortions.
The book maintains a deft, critical tone that’s a refreshing break from most writing about abortions. Erdreich honestly and sharply evaluates the state of the movement and looks at what is and is not working for reproductive rights activists. She discusses the social stigma surrounding abortion, the tide of anti-choice legislation sweeping the nation, the dangers of providing abortion care, abortion in pop culture, and the strategies employed by the anti-choice movement in detail, weaving personal and political narratives together quite seamlessly.
In one chapter, for example, she goes to a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) with her husband for research. As she discusses her wanted pregnancy in the chapter, she also talks about the CPC’s strategies and the false information they provide, putting herself in the shoes of a frightened and uneducated adult or teen who might be intimidated by what she finds behind the doors of the facility, where women with no credentials serve as “counselors” offering unscientific and biased advice on pregnancy and reproductive health services.
In another chapter, Erdreich examines the reproductive rights movement’s national strategy, questioning whether it’s been the most effective approach. Hyperfocusing on Roe v. Wade, she and some of her interviewees argue, has allowed incremental damages to abortion access in the US to accrue. That creates a situation where women’s rights have gradually eroded over time: abortion may be legal, but that doesn’t make it accessible. Erdreich contrasts the organic, grassroots, localized movements of primarily post-Roe activists with those of pre-Roe activists, while also noting the tensions between the two.
While the generational divide between the two is not absolute, Erdreich notes, it’s certainly a contributing factor to tensions within the movement as people struggle with activism in a new era. Some pre-Roe critics suggest that the post-Roe generation is apathetic or lazy, incapable of organizing and not ready to take on the responsibilities of a movement, while younger activists resent the erasure of their accomplishments, including organizing, heading up social movements, and ferocious activism.
She also questions how the movement has allowed itself to become dominated by the rhetoric and tactics of anti-choice activists, pointing out that they have reduced to the debate to terms that don’t center women and their reproductive rights. The ground for this criticism is well laid; by the time she specifically takes the issue on, she’s backed it up with subtle commentary in previous chapters, and her statement is all the sharper for it.
Her indictment of the ways in which the movement has allowed itself to be manipulated also extends to the final chapter, “On Demand and Without Apology,” which notes that the reproductive rights movement, like many other social movements, has chosen a path of least controversy. By muzzling more “radical” views, the movement has diluted itself and weakened its power as a collective, and in doing so, it’s reinforced the idea that abortion should be a source of shame, confusion, and stigma.
Generation Roe challenges readers to ask themselves what kind of pro-choice movement they want to have and build, and what kind of world they want to live in. It’s a fantastic overview of the issues facing the movement today, and the people on the front lines of the culture war over reproductive rights. A must-have for readers interested in reproductive rights subjects, particularly those who wish to expand the scope and nature of the debate to make it more inclusive of the larger picture.