On May 13, critic Katha Pollitt reviewed three books on abortion rights in the U.S. for the Washington Post, including Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America, written by constitutional law scholar and Kline School of Law professor David Cohen and sociologist and reproductive rights advocate Carole Joffe.
Cohen and Joffe discover that, in the U.S., there are more than 1,000 abortion restrictions in place—a burden which disproportionately affects women of color and women in low-income communities. The move to create restrictions is traced back to 1973, when abortion became legal. Federal and state actors, often driven by right-wing politics, began building barriers in policies and regulations that nominally protected women’s health but functionally restrict access to abortion.
These formal restrictions are compounded by a number of informal barriers or “myths” about abortion. One such myth, that women are generally uncertain about having an abortion, has led to policies requiring waiting periods between asking for an abortion and having the procedure. It has also resulted in state policies that require doctors to read a script that’s meant to dissuade women from having an abortion.
The exploration of both the formal and informal restrictions to abortion shows just how difficult it is for many women to access a healthcare service to which they have an enumerated right. But, Cohen and Joffe’s work has at least one silver lining: the many narratives from individuals who have encountered these barriers firsthand. These stories show “the courage, intelligence and determination of patients,” according to Pollitt.
The other books that Pollitt reviewed are Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present by law professor Mary Ziegler, who explores the antiabortionist strategy of changing state regulations to create barriers to abortions, and Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood by law professor Michele Goodwin, who argues that women are treated as property and coerced by the state, the medical community and the media.
Professor David Cohen Discusses Obstacle Course