Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion edited by Rachel MacNair examines psychological effects of abortion on a continuum of perspectives, from abortion-as-option to abortion-as-violence. Though the academic tone can be difficult to read at times, the information in the text as well as the way it is presented make this book an essential read for people on the fence of the abortion issue, who are just entering the pro-life movement, or who are pro-choice and want to understand some of the reasons behind the pro-life beliefs.
The first section of the book is composed of five chapters written on issues of violence against women and how abortion relates to them. In these cases, the abortion-as-option and abortion-as-violence viewpoints can agree; this violence is wrong, and no woman should be forced to have an abortion against her will. The text is almost entirely statistics and quotes from various research papers, which can be tedious to read. However, I appreciate the inclusion of information that people anywhere on the continuum can agree on. Seven chapters about the aftermath of abortion make up the second part of the book. These focus largely on the mental health effects and counseling of post-abortive women, but also mention post-abortive men and doctors who perform abortions. These chapters take time in presenting information and drawing conclusions here that demonstrate that peace psychology opposes abortion. One of the chapters is a summary of a paper from the American Psychological Association about mental health and abortion. This paper makes an opposing argument to the book. The next chapter of Peace Psychology on Abortion then makes a rebuttal against this paper. Addressing the comments of people with differing opinions strengthens this book. The third section of the book tackles a few worries some people have about outlawing abortion. Again, the authors only help their argument by addressing these concerns. Finally, the last section dives into addressing the needs of women and transforming the abortion debate. For me, this was by far the most interesting section because it gave direct, practical ways for people within the pro-life movement to change the culture and help save lives. It discusses pregnancy prevention, meeting the needs of pregnant and parenting people and their children, and transforming the abortion debate. These are three areas I feel strongly about, so this was the section of the book I was most interested in.
As an active, involved member of the pro-life movement, I do not think I was part of the intended audience and, as such, was unsatisfied with the editor’s choice to emphasize certain sections of this book more than others. The second section is likely the most important to the authors and editor; it provides a significant amount of information, focuses on where the abortion-as-option and abortion-as-violence viewpoints diverge, and takes up the most real estate in the book, pages 74 through 211 out of 315 pages total. This information is important for people in the middle of the continuum to read, as it might help them better form their opinions, as well as for newcomers to the pro-life movement who may not have yet encountered these ideas. However, after being involved with a pro-life student group for over a year and working for a pro-life nonprofit for a few months, I was already familiar with the ideas found in the second section. The fourth section on what the movement can do to improve the situation was the most interesting and, at just over 50 pages, was entirely too short to cover what needed to be said. I would have loved to learn more about what strategies have helped other people successfully have conversations and help people who are in difficult situations. However, for the intended audience of people who do not already hold firm pro-life stances, the material this book provides is helpful and informative.
The authors write with an academic tone, which makes sense given that the main goals of this book are to give information and suggest solutions to problems. However, the constant bombardment of information, especially as present in the first two sections, can become tiresome. A brief respite is granted in the tenth chapter when the author, Martha Shuping, provides a personal anecdote. Unfortunately, this is the only such break. The academic, informational tone is expected and necessary, but does make the book harder to get through. However, the structure of the book into sections does help keep the reader moving from one chapter to the next. It also works well to transition from a shared position between the two sides (section one) into the splitting off (section two). It also follows a logical, nearly chronological order. Each section has its own merits, but the division into sections and the flow from one chapter to the next keeps the reader moving along smoothly.
One strength of this book is its ability to treat the other side charitably. Though the authors of this book view abortion as violence, they make the best arguments for the abortion-as-option viewpoint and always respect the people who hold these views. In the Understanding Perspectives section of the introduction, MacNair states that “[f]or the purposes of this book, we are only interested in aspects of interest to peace psychology, and therefore will not be considering the views of those whose reasoning is not for women’s benefit.” On the other side, she states, “In the same way, this book is only considering the views of those who oppose all these forms of violence across the board, in what is commonly called the ‘consistent life ethic.’” This positive attitude continues throughout the book, focusing on the strong pieces of both views and where the two views share common ground. This helps readers understand the opposing viewpoint and see an example of how to work with a person who holds those beliefs.
Another strength can be found within the first five chapters. At the end of each of these, there are two sections: “Implications for Meeting Women’s Needs and Rights” and “Research Needs.” The first examines the information given in the chapter and provides possible solutions to the problems presented. The second explains what more needs to be researched before this can be a widespread practice. From the second chapter on coercion, the implications state that “women who are screened for coercion and pressure are more likely to make autonomous decisions, receive needed support, and experience better outcomes.” The following section then says that, in order to do this as effectively as possible, more documentation is needed, as well as more research on screening tools, evaluation of programs, and therapy needs. By presenting the information and providing a possible solution, this book helps demonstrate to readers what can be done to alleviate problems women face.
The sheer amount of information in this book means it is not a light read. However, structural strengths of the book allow readers to flow through without too much difficulty. The charitable attitude of the authors towards those of differing viewpoints and willingness to work together and build common ground shows their integrity. To those who are not firm in their position on abortion or who have recently joined the pro-life movement, add Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion to your must-read list.
This review was written by Paige Kubenka. Kubenka is a sophomore Rhetoric & Writing major at the University of Texas.