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The Abortion Myth: Feminism, Morality, and the Hard Choices Women Make [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   169
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 5.25" Height: 8.25"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 30, 2001
Publisher   Wesleyan
ISBN  0819563854  
EAN  9780819563859  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
The feminist position on abortion is little changed from thirty years ago, argues Leslie Cannold. Mired in the rhetoric of "rights," feminists have failed to appreciate women's actual experience of abortion and have ceded the debate on the morality of abortion to the anti-choice contingent. In order to counter the current erosion of abortion rights and appeal to women of Generation X, who don't remember a time when abortion wasn't safe and legal, feminism must evolve a richer, more nuanced understanding of abortion, she says, one that is premised on the right to choose, yet sensitive to the value of the fetus and the serious responsibilities of motherhood.

Cannold, an American bioethicist working in Australia, seeks to forge a new ethics of abortion in her groundbreaking book. Drawing on her own study of women's actual experiences of and attitudes toward abortion, she documents the difficult choices women make and the moral and ethical reasoning they bring to bear on the question of abortion, whether they are pro- or anti-choice. In the lived experience of women, she finds a practical ethics of abortion in which termination is not only a moral response to an unplanned pregnancy, it may be the only moral response.

Feminism must develop a new appreciation of what abortion means to women, Cannold argues. Women's right to choose (or reject) motherhood, rather than to "control their bodies," must be at the center of this new approach, as must the responsive, caring relationship between the pregnant woman and her fetus. Such an approach to this volatile issue speaks to the concerns of both pro- and anti-choice advocates, offering a middle ground in an often polarizing debate. Upon her book's publication in Australia, The Bulletin (Australia's weekly news magazine) declared that "a refreshingly forthright and compassionate voice has broken through the rancour and tedium of this benighted controversy." This first American edition, revised and with a new introduction, brings Cannold's new voice and perspective to a new audience.

"The women I interviewed, no matter what side of the abortion fence they were on," writes Leslie Cannold in The Abortion Myth, "were clear that the fetus is alive, and abortion kills it. None of them, however, believed these facts proved that abortion was wrong." Cannold criticizes pro-choice feminists for denying the fetus in an effort to bring the woman back into focus as the locus of pregnancy and the agent of decision-making. In her view, women are moral persons for whom the decision to abort derives less from a sense of rights or privacy and more from a broader evaluation of what the "right" thing to do is. This evaluation speaks to their attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood, and the real difference between pro- and anti-choice women is their level of trust that other women will "act morally."

Cannold builds on the work of such scholars as Kristin Luker, Faye Ginsburg, and Carol Gilligan, and takes on the controversial work of her own mentor, Peter Singer, on how ectogenesis might affect the abortion decision. Methodologically, The Abortion Myth suffers from some of the same flaws as Gilligan's In a Different Voice--a small, self-selected sample--and Cannold's normative stance is clear throughout. She is, after all, a graduate student and fellow in bioethics. The author is American but does all her work in Australia, and it is certainly fruitful to hear other voices and perspectives coming from a non-U.S. context. The Abortion Myth has been revised and updated for an American audience. Where the original Australian edition was produced as a trade book, this new version, published by a university press consortium, reflects Cannold's desire to engage the enormous academic and political debate that surrounds abortion, especially in the United States. The result is an interesting and thought-provoking read for the sophisticated lay reader. --J.R.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Reframes the abortion issue  May 27, 2007
Cannold does an excellent job reframing the abortion issue as one of morality rather than rights. She thinks that the pro-choice movement has taken the wrong direction in focusing on the rights of women, and has to a certain extent played into the hands of the anti-choice faction. She may well be right on this point. Cannold also thinks that the central point of disagreement between pro-choice and anti-choice women has more to do with why women should or should not be mothers than with the rights of the fetus. The book is a valuable addition to the abortion debate.

It is certainly refreshing to hear from actual women about their views on abortion, and why they feel it is wrong or right. Indeed, one of the book's flaws is that it could have used far more quotes from its research subjects. Maybe the problem was that due to the small number of women interviewed, there just weren't enough interesting quotes. I would like to see a follow-up study with more participants.

Cannold's book misses some important points relating to the abortion issue. In my opinion, it is morally acceptable to end the life of a human embryo or fetus to save other humans. That is exactly the situation we are in today. The earth cannot hold an infinite number of people. This is abundantly shown by the accumulating environmental problems we face, not to mention the declining standards of living in many countries, including the U.S. and Australia. We are exhausting the natural resources on which ALL human lives depend, very rapidly.(For more on this, I would suggest Diamond's book "Collapse" and Kunstler's book "The Long Emergency.") A stable population is an absolute necessity to get this situation under control. Population control is no liberal fad; on the contrary, it is deeply conservative. Given that we only have one planet to live on, we should be cautious about doing new things with it, including putting lots of new people on it. Whatever else you may say about abortion, it is an effective and inexpensive method of controlling the number of people. If you feel abortion is unethical, you still need to come up with a way to keep the population of the earth at a sustainable level. I don't see Christian churches ponying up the necessary money to pay for billions of people to learn and practice the rhythm method. This is condemning people--not fetuses, grown people--to death by war, disease, and ecological disaster. That doesn't strike me as genuine respect for human life.

Cannold addresses the fact that the Bible says very little about abortion, and that disapproval of abortion by Christian churches is a relatively recent development in Christianity. I think this is very good. (Part of the problem I see in modern Christianity its that its most faithful adherents seem to know so little about the Bible.) I can certainly understand why a woman might feel abortion is morally wrong, even though I don't agree. While Cannold doesn't mention this, I also feel that people should be responsible for the moral choices they make, as well as those they encourage others to make. If a church believes abortion is wrong, they should be willing to pay for the mother's medical care and for the support of children born as a result. The state should not have to do this.

When it comes to improving peoples' lives, in my opinion the road to Hell is indeed paved with good intentions. If Christianity really worked to make bad people good and good people better, I would be the first to sign up. If Christianity was an effective way to relieve poverty and bring peace, I would definitely consider it. If Christianity were just a silly hobby that made people feel good and harmed no one, it wouldn't bother me. Unfortunately, that isn't what I see. Even when in power, Christianity has made little or no progress in solving the social problems that it deals with, such as poverty and violence. Christianity systematically ignores the most serious problems of our times, because they receive little or no attention in a book written thousands of years ago. We deserve better.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century
abortion as a moral choice  Apr 24, 2004
Cannold does an excellent job of portraying the subjects of a study she completed in Australia that consisted of interviewing women, both pro and anti choice, about specific reproductive scenarios. But she went beyond just having subjects check boxes with answers to be tabulated and spit back out as percentages. She wanted to know WHY each woman made the hypothetical choices they made. In their answers are the reason why the struggle to keep abortion legal is a good one.

Women choose to abort, Cannold found, because they take their responsibilities of motherhood so seriously that pro-choice women would rather abort a fetus than misraise, abuse, or neglect a child. Cannold found out that abortion enables women to eventually become mothers on their own terms, giving them not only freedom to be free of children, but free to start a family when they're ready to be good mothers.

Cannold does an effective job of conveying the importance of motherhood and doing it right, even to a committed bachelorette such as myself. She also delves into the bond that pregnancy forges between the fetus and the woman who are about to become mother and child, and how that affects a woman's decision to abort rather than offer for adoption. As it turns out, even the anti-choice women in Cannold's study, some recalling past experiences, would not give a child up for adoption.

Cannold's book consciously turns the abortion debate away from rights and towards a discussion of motherhood and whether the decision to become a mother can be forced on anyone, and whether anyone benefits from attempting to. Cannold's opening chapters' quotes and excerpts chillingly show the consequences should pro-choicers fail to put women in charge of their own pregnancies, motherhoods, and lives.

I'm giving it four and not five stars because, quite frankly, I would have loved to read even more of her study's subjects' responses. They may not always match yours, but reading them is essential for anyone who wants to know why women will forcefully defend their right to choose an abortion, or try to take the right away.


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