Her Body, Our Laws: On the Front Lines of the Abortion War, from El Salvador to Oklahoma
by Michelle Oberman
Beacon Press, 186 pp.
There may be no controversy more deeply rooted in U.S. politics than the fight over the right to abortion. The Roe v. Wade litmus test has become a familiar fixture of the Supreme Court confirmation process. And while most Americans believe in a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy in most circumstances, Republican state legislators continue to crusade against it. Given the vociferousness of the debate about the legality of abortion, it's striking that in her new book, Her Body, Our Laws, Michelle Oberman argues that "for the most vulnerable and marginalized women, abortion's legal status hardly matter[s]." If abortion law is largely irrelevant to the women for whom it is thought to be most salient, then what are we all fighting about?
Oberman makes her case in a slim volume that largely consists of painful and illuminating stories from different theaters of the abortion war in the U.S. and around the world. She begins with the heart-wrenching story of Beatriz, an El Salvadoran woman whose 2013 case became a referendum on El Salvador's abortion laws, the strictest in the world. About three months into her pregnancy, Beatriz learned that the fetus she carried had anencephaly, meaning that it lacked a brain and would die in utero or shortly after birth. Compounding this devastating diagnosis was the fact that her pregnancy was already a significant health risk for Beatriz because she was living with lupus, a long-term autoimmune disease. It would seem obvious that Beatriz need not risk her own health to carry to term a fetus that was destined to die. But El Salvador forbids abortion even when necessary to save the pregnant woman's life. Despite her appeal to the Salvadoran government and the country's Supreme Court, Beatriz was forced to carry her pregnancy for seven months, until her daughter was delivered by emergency C-section and died shortly after her birth.
As Oberman speaks with Beatriz, she comes to know more about the woman's life, including that she had attended school only until the age of fourteen, that her illness made it impossible for her to be employed on a long-term basis, that she lived with multiple family members in a small home in a remote area of the county, that her husband was physically and sexually abusive, and that her pregnancy resulted from coerced unprotected sex with her abusive...