An intelligently balanced history of the abortion issue and a splendid analysis of its sources. Prof Luker (Sociology, UCal...



An intelligently balanced history of the abortion issue and a splendid analysis of its sources. Prof Luker (Sociology, UCal San Diego) herself declines to take sides. ""The belief in simplicity,"" she rightly insists, ""reduces any possibility of dialogue or learning."" Her historical summary demonstrates, saliently, that ""the moral status of the embryo has always been ambiguous."" The first anti-abortion movement in America was mounted between 1850-1890 by doctors eager to establish their expertise over competing professionals (lawyers and ministers) and over their middle-class female clientele, many of whom accepted and practiced abortion. Claiming specialized knowledge about gestation, the doctors argued that the embryo had a right to life, but that this right was conditional, with only the doctors knowing when to terminate it. What resulted, according to Luker, was a ""reallocation of social responsibility"" from woman to doctor; the discussion remained calm and professional. Abortion then disappeared ""beneath the cloak of an emerging profession's claims."" But in 1962, the celebrated ""Finkbine case""--in which a woman made public her intended abortion of a deformed fetus--ignited both anti-abortion forces, then largely Catholic professionals, and other, pro-abortion professionals. Passage of the 1967 California Abortion Act in turn stirred up a grass-roots movement supported by working women, for whom abortion-law repeal represented ""an attack on both the segregated labor market and the cultural expectations about women's roles."" The very success of the anti-abortion activists--demonstrated in the 1973 Supreme Court rulings--set off a wave of Right to Life opposition. The two political camps reflect two world views. While pro-lifers believe men and women are fundamentally different, with separate ""natural"" roles, pro-choice advocates believe in the substantial similarity of men and women, with women's reproduction a potential barrier to social equality. While prolifers emphasize the centrality of religious faith, pro-choice people count on human reason to understand and alter the environment. Why, in contrast to the muted 19th-century debate, is the current debate so rancorous? ""Because it is a referendum on the place and meaning of motherhood,"" Luker maintains--with the women on the two sides clearly drawn from ""two different social worlds and the hopes and beliefs those worlds support."" The debate will surely continue, but Luker clearly reveals the two opposing forces: their shared history and contrasting moral and political views. Sociology engagÉe, and well clone at that.

Pub Date: April 1, 1984

ISBN: 0520055977

Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. of California Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1984

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