On the Christian Feminist’s Bookshelf: “Pro” and “Unplanned”

In the library, with the kids and about fifty pounds of new books they’d picked out in tow, I happened to walk past the women’s issues and reproductive issues shelf. It was fate. There at eye-level as I swept past were “Pro” by Katha Pollitt, and “Unplanned” by Abby Johnson.

Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of the Former Planned Parenthood Leader Who Crossed the Line to Fight for Women in Crisis” by Abby Johnson

I loved this book! And I planned to hate it. Not to hate it, really, but I was really wary of it being a milquetoast conservative evangelical treatise wrapped up in glitter.

I didn’t want to read more of the same arguments about the amazing benefits of adoption (an issue I find to be complex for mother, child, and adoptive family) and the selfishness of women seeking abortions they will surely regret later (an argument I find to be comedic in its lack of empathy). But “Unplanned” was neither. If anything, “Pro” by Pollitt was the same-old, same-old tome.

Johnson worked as the director of a Planned Parenthood for years and then participated in an abortion and it changed her life — she went over to the anti-choice side and has stayed there. The highlight for me was the fact that Johnson wasn’t accepted to worship at her theologically conservative church when she was working for Planned Parenthood, and then when she switched sides, she wasn’t accepted at the Episcopal Church she had been attending. In fact, she was asked to leave. She laments both experiences — each church missing out on witness from someone who wasn’t in the same “camp.” Johnson’s ability to get to the heart of some of the human issues we face in community with each other is really wonderful, and this was a quick, page-turning read.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights” by Katha Pollitt

I wanted to love this book, and it fell really flat for me. “Pro” felt like Pollitt yelling at the anti-choice side, when in all likelihood only pro-choicers will read the book. That’s fine, but I feel like a new generation of pro-choice activists wants to dive more into the conversation about where we go from here, and Pollitt only dedicated six pages to the future of the movement. How do we get more state-level legislation for reproductive justice? What about ideas for bringing together intersecting interests of feminism, LGBTQI rights, social justice, and racial justice? No dice.

Pollitt’s arguments were interesting and her statistics and back-up very good, but it felt like she was one of the protestors at the women’s march holding up a pro-abortion sign from the 1960s with the overlay “I can’t believe I’m still marching for this.” Pollitt and others have been lifting their voices for decades while reproductive rights have been under state-level attack and consistently eroding, so she gets her book and she should get her due. But I don’t think she’ll get what she wants, which is for pro-choice advocates to stop using terms like “difficult,” “complex,” and “nuanced” with abortion.

Bonus: “Love in the Elephant Tent: How Running Away with the Circus Brought Me Home” by Kathleen Cremonesi

This was another grab-while-chasing-kids pick. Cremonesi’s story of her peripatetic young adult life, culminating in her joining a circus in Spain and meeting her Italian love, is a really fun and engaging read. I love staying up late to read Oregon authors (Cremonesi grew up outside of Eugene and still lives there with her once-elephant-tamer husband).

Much of what I loved about “Unplanned” I also found in “Love in the Elephant Tent” — human motivations, entanglements, and ideologies told through the stories of real people — but with more lyricism and adventure. I am a sucker for a well-told memoir with a female heroine.

Now I’m looking for riveting memoirs protagonized by people of color. Suggest away!

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