Academic Perceptions of Abortion:
a Review of Humanities Scholarship Produced Within the Academy


1 Although their work does not concern abortion, some scholars think that a study of the first right-to-life issue is needed. For example, Nicholas Dames responded by email that his 2001 monograph, Amnesiac Selves: Nostalgia, Forgetting, and British Fiction, 1810-1870, "contains nothing pertaining to abortion. An interesting possibility, but I can't think (offhand) of any recent scholarship on the issue" of abortion. Similarly, Edvige Giunta confirmed in an email that her 2002 monograph, Writing with an Accent: Contemporary Italian American Women Authors, also does not concern abortion, "though it certainly deserves attention". [Back]

2 For example, the introduction to the 2000 monograph A History of Women's Writing in Italy, edited by Letizia Panizza and Sharon Wood, contains only the briefest reference to abortion: "Abortion was the second issue which drew women in their hundreds of thousands in a campaign of information and civil disobedience, and was finally legalised in 1978, thus largely ending a hidden but widely felt scandal" (8-9). [Back]

3 See, for example, Kopaczynski's 1994 article "Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex: Laying the Groundwork for Abortion" (Cithara 33.2: 18-29). I am especially grateful that Kopaczynski responded to an urgent email query of mine recently, when I sought to determine further the bases of Beauvoir's support for abortion. In that email Kopaczynski writes: "I have checked the French original; even there, Beauvoir does not give any indication precisely where she got the quote supposedly from St. Augustine". Beauvoir may have inaccurately tried to recall some material from other works. Kopaczynski suggests that "if it be from St. Augustine, I would opine that the most likely source is his 'De nuptiis et concupiscentia.' Another possibility would be from one of his sermons". [Back]

4 The continuation of this paragraph suggests the source for the abortionists' version of the right to privacy:

Sarah Weddington, an unemployed law school graduate who belonged to a consciousness-raising group in Austin, Texas, investigated the legal risks of providing an underground abortion referral service. Her research revealed the possibility of a legal challenge to laws against abortion based on the right to privacy. (202) [Back]

5 One thinks immediately of Birthright, because, beginning with one office in Toronto in 1968, the organization expanded first throughout the metropolitan Toronto area, then advanced into various Canadian provinces. In 1972 Birthright expanded internationally by opening an office in Atlanta, though the first chartered chapter was established in Chicago. Louise Summerhill, Birthright's founder, travelled to South Africa in the late 1970s to set up chapters. Birthright was "one of the only volunteer organizations in South Africa which helped whites, coloureds and blacks indiscriminately", according to the founder's daughter, Ms. Louise R. Summerhill. By the early 1980s Birthright expanded to a total of over five hundred offices in North America. Moreover, there are numerous other pregnancy service organizations which either modeled themselves after Birthright or expanded services beyond Birthright's original platform.

In a now-dated 1998 telephone interview, Summerhill estimates conservatively that two million calls were received by Birthright affiliates. Birthright now receives 50,000 calls annually through its hotline alone (1-800-550-4900). She also estimates that there are about five hundred affiliates, but the number is constantly changing. There are about seventy affiliates in Canada, 450 in the United States, and others in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, and Hong Kong. Although Birthright affiliates are not on every continent, Summerhill states that the group has helped women on all continents through various contacts. Finally, since confidentiality is such a strong factor, few records are kept in the offices; thus, Birthright volunteers do not know how many babies were born to women who visited Birthright.

To put closure on this matter, I asked Evans by email whether her work says "anything about counter-abortion groups, such as Birthright". Her emailed reply was "I deal mainly with the pre-Roe V. Wade era (which means I do not deal with groups like Birthright)." [Back]

6 Research by Jack and Barbara Willke, summarizing legislative activity on abortion, is noteworthy here. Thirty-three states "voted against permitting abortion for any reason except to save the mother's life" (157). Moreover, these authors note that

In the late 1960's and early 1970's, pro-abortionists challenged the constitutionality of laws forbidding abortion in most states. In about 1/3 of the decisions, such laws were declared unconstitutional and varying degrees of abortions were permitted. (Most were states that had already legalized abortion[.)] Two thirds of the state courts[,] however, declared existing laws to be constitutional. (157) [Back]

7 In rather lugubrious language Ewa Plonowska Ziarek argues along the same lines in her 2001 monograph An Ethics of Dissensus: Postmodernity, Feminism, and the Politics of Radical Democracy:

If we approach sexual difference as the disappropriative labor of the negative revealing the incompleteness of the subject and the asymmetry of sexual relations, then the possibility of all ethical encounters, including erotic ones, depends not only on embodiment but, more specifically, on the condition of being a sexed subject. (221) [Back]

8 This passage compares with Hauerwas' 1981 commentary on a claim by Rawls that "the family may be a barrier to equal chances between individuals" (277). Finally, Crotty's claim about the force of the family's influence on the individual reflects current sociological and communication theorist definitions of the term. Judy C. Pearson and Paul E. Nelson's 2000 monograph, An Introduction to Human Communication: Understanding and Sharing, 8th ed., defines "family" as "an organized, naturally occurring, relational, transactional group, usually occupying a common living space over an extended time period and possessing a confluence of interpersonal images that evolve through the exchange of meaning over time" (182). [Back]

9 I do not think a pun was intended. [Back]

10 Despite such an overall biased approach towards right-to-lifers, Harding does supply some objective details about pro-life history within the born-again communities. She states that Evangelical involvement in the right-to-life movement can be attributed to "three overlapping stages and venues":

The first was the...internal debate among evangelical scholars and intellectual leaders that heated up after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.... The second stage, the effort to convert conservative Protestant leaders more generally to a stricter anti-abortion position, was launched in 1975 when Billy Graham convened a two-day leadership meeting to "determine a proper Biblical response to abortion-on-demand".... Perhaps the most important event in this second stage was the production and distribution in 1978 of the five-part film series Whatever Happened to the Human Race?. The film and an accompanying book with the same title were written by Francis Schaeffer IV and C. Everett Koop.... (191) [Back]

11 See, for example, Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray's 1997 dictionary of literary terms widely used in the classroom, The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Citing the work of French feminist Julia Kristeva, the editors note that it is essential to understand that "feminine or feminist writing that resists or refuses participation in 'masculine' discourse risks being politically marginalized in a society which still is, after all, patriarchal" (123). David H. Richter's 1998 anthology of literary criticism, The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends (2nd ed.), begins with the claims that "patriarchal misogyny, the canon, and women's writing are key issues for the critics" whose writings are represented in the chapter on feminist literary theory.

Since its publication in 2000, another popular summary of contemporary literary theories appears in the anthology Literature for Composition: Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, 5th ed. The editors, Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto, William E. Cain, and Marcia Stubbs, declare that

Feminist critics rightly point out that men have established the conventions of literature and that men have established the canon -- that is, the body of literature that is said to be worth reading. Speaking a bit broadly, in this patriarchal or male-dominated body of literature, men are valued for being strong and active, whereas women are expected to be weak and passive. (509) [Back]

12 To her credit, Ginsburg reiterated this axiom in another work on the same subject. In her article "The Case of Mistaken Identity: Problems in Representing Women on the Right", published in the 1993 collection When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography, Ginsburg affirms that "However divided the field of sociocultural anthropology has become, Malinowski's axiom -- that the ethnographer's task is to represent the native's point of view--is still widely accepted" (163). [Back]

13 I would like to thank Southern Illinois University Press for granting permission to print this poem. For full bibliographic information, please see the Baggott entry in the Works Cited. [Back]

14 The rest of the online article is worth quoting in its entirety:

The disturbing results of the recent poll by Luntz Research Associates found that 84 per cent of the professors supported Al Gore in the elections, with only 9 per cent supporting President Bush. Only one of five professors attended religious services at least once a week. Forty-eight percent said they rarely or never attended a religious service. Analyzing the data, writer Maggie Gallagher warns, "academia has as rigid a hierarchy of status as the military, and a handful of top schools not only set the tone for the nation's academics, but they also train and influence the next generation of American leaders. Ideological uniformity is dangerous to the primary intellectual mission of any university: the pursuit of knowledge. How much will professors of (look at the list) -- government, political science, law, philosophy, social sciences, economics, sociology -- overlook and fail to explore if their work takes place in a relatively insular, parochial intellectual community, free from radically competing points of view?" Zero per cent of the professors polled identified themselves as conservative. Six percent said they were somewhat conservative, 23 percent were moderates, 30 percent somewhat liberal and 34 percent liberal, with a margin of error of 8 percent. [Back]

Works Cited

Works Consulted

1, 2, 3,