WHOSE LIFE? by Catherine Whitney


A Balanced, Comprehensive View of Abortion from Its Historical Context to the Current Debate
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 Here, Whitney (Uncommon Lives: Gay Men and Straight Women, 1990) surveys the complex intermingling of law, science, and faith in the debate over abortion. Despite its subtitle, this absorbing report is neither balanced nor comprehensive. Whitney's selection of ``The individual conscience is the highest court'' as her introductory quote defines her personal point of view. Right-to-lifers will find her treatment of their position unsympathetic, and those interested in the larger history of abortion will be disappointed by the brevity of her historical survey. Nevertheless, the history she does provide is fascinating: the Bible has no direct references either to abortion or contraception, and it was not until the 19th century that Pope Pius IX made abortion of any kind an excommunicable offense; abortion was legal in the US until the mid-1800's, and the concept of fetal rights did not develop until the 20th century. Whitney tracks the current debate neatly through numerous complicated legislative and judicial battles, telling revealing stories of the human beings involved as she does so. She also takes side trips into problems posed by advances in medical technology: Are frozen embryos human beings with rights? What role should society play in protecting the fetus from harmful habits of the mother, e.g., smoking and drinking? Is the new French abortion pill, RU 486, with its potential for treating breast cancer, a blessing or a curse? For the record, Whitney includes a tabulation of Supreme Court decisions relating to abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973 and a state-by-state summary of abortion laws. In spite of its flaws, a generally restrained, well-written account of where the abortion debate stands now, with intimations of what may lie ahead.

Pub Date: July 19th, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-09622-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991


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