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NWSA Journal 14.3 (2002) 212-215

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The Abortion Myth by Leslie Cannold. London: Wesleyan University Press, 2000, 169 pp., $30.00 hardcover, $16.95 paper.
The Politics of Fertility Control by Deborah R. McFarlane and Kenneth J. Meier. New York: Chatham House, 2001, 197 pp., $22.95 paper.

Both of the books discussed in this review reveal significant information about the reproductive aspect of women's lives. While complementary, each contributes distinct information. The Abortion Myth is highly qualitative, presenting women's voices as they discuss moral decision making concerning abortion. The Politics of Fertility Control demonstrates a wealth of hard data collected about the effects of laws and policies surrounding contraception and abortion in this country over the past thirty years.

Originally published in the trade press for lay readers in Australia, the American version of The Abortion Myth provides a scholarly discussion of Cannold's research about the moral decision-making process related to terminating pregnancy. She based her research in the qualitative paradigm, using focus group interviews in Melbourne, Australia. The use of focus groups is a valuable research technique that resulted here in a great deal of new information about what women think and the critical factors that formed the basis of their decision making regarding pregnancy termination or continued motherhood. The women's narratives presented in their own words make this work come alive.

Of the forty-five women participants, about one half described themselves as pro-life, the other half pro-choice. These women stress that abortion is not as much about reproductive control or self-concerns, but [End Page 212] rather what is best for a child, born and unborn. As Cannold states, "The women I interviewed, no matter what side of the abortion fence they were on, were clear that the fetus is alive, and abortion kills it" (xviii).

Cannold asked the women to contemplate four potential, ethical scenarios related to abortion decisions. In one of these scenarios, the idea of an artificial womb (ectogenesis) is presented, where a woman could place a fetus until it had reached term. At the completion of gestation, she could choose to place the child for adoption or retain her motherhood role. The responses of the women to this and the other scenarios are intriguing and stimulate a great deal of thought and paradigm shifting concerning how women decide to abort a pregnancy. In short, Cannold uses the concept of motherhood, as described by her participants, as the main rationale for what is best for the fetus. She states, "The abortion issue is not separate from the complex web of women's experiences, understandings, and feelings about mothering children, but part of it. Women's decisions about abortion are the same sorts of decisions they make about mothering, only with different outcomes" (xxii).

The book begins with a foreword by René Denfeld, who underscores that the morality issues involved in abortion decisions have been virtually ignored in most discussions of the topic. In the following six chapters, Cannold provides findings from her research and interweaves these with some central themes. These include: the trustworthiness of women to make ethical, moral decisions; the relationship of pregnancy in women's lives; the meaning of motherhood; the dilemmas involved in adoption decisions; and the responsibility of making the truest ethical choices when a motherhood role is involved. In addition, Cannold illustrates some of the more tenacious and long-standing pro-life and pro-choice arguments concerning abortion, and persistently moves the debate beyond these two stances. For this perusal of the many diverse and always controversial issues about abortion, Cannold is to be commended.

The Abortion Myth is a thought-provoking consideration from women's perspectives of a highly politicized debate that sadly, has divided women into two political stances. This book brings pro-choice and pro-life women together in meaningful discussions that emphasize the difficult moral decisions women make surrounding motherhood. From these discussions, Cannold challenges women to a paradigm shift: that of the right to choose motherhood as opposed to the right to reproductive...


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