Abortion in the American Imagination, Abortion in the American Imagination, 0813565294, 0-8135-6529-4, 978-0-8135-6529-3, 9780813565293, , , Abortion in the American Imagination, 0813565308, 0-8135-6530-8, 978-0-8135-6530-9, 9780813565309, , The American Literatures Initiative, Abortion in the American Imagination, 0813565391, 0-8135-6539-1, 978-0-8135-6539-2, 9780813565392, , The American Literatures Initiative, Abortion in the American Imagination, 0813572134, 0-8135-7213-4, 978-0-8135-7213-0, 9780813572
Abortion in the American Imagination

Before Life and Choice, 1880-1940
Karen Weingarten (Author)
204 pages, 7 photographs, 6 x 9
Paper, July 2014 $25.95   ADD TO CART
Cloth, July 2014 $75.00   ADD TO CART
epub, July 2014 $25.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
Subject Area:
Gender Studies, American Studies, Women's Studies, Sociology


 The public debate on abortion stretches back much further than Roe v. Wade, to long before the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” were ever invented. Yet the ways Americans discussed abortion in the early decades of the twentieth century had little in common with our now-entrenched debates about personal responsibility and individual autonomy.

Abortion in the American Imagination returns to the moment when American writers first dared to broach the controversial subject of abortion. What was once a topic avoided by polite society, only discussed in vague euphemisms behind closed doors, suddenly became open to vigorous public debate as it was represented everywhere from sensationalistic melodramas to treatises on social reform. Literary scholar and cultural historian Karen Weingarten shows how these discussions were remarkably fluid and far-ranging, touching upon issues of eugenics, economics, race, and gender roles.

Weingarten traces the discourses on abortion across a wide array of media, putting fiction by canonical writers like William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, and Langston Hughes into conversation with the era’s films, newspaper articles, and activist rhetoric. By doing so, she exposes not only the ways that public perceptions of abortion changed over the course of the twentieth century, but also the ways in which these abortion debates shaped our very sense of what it means to be an American.   


"The lucidity and vibrancy of its major claims make Abortion in the American Imagination a first-rate book. Weingarten provides a fascinating reconception of modernist and contemporary battles with abortion and offers a huge contribution to this critical topic."
—Dale M. Bauer, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

"Weingarten provides a rich analysis of literary representations of abortion and the problem of pitting 'life' against 'choice' that will appeal to scholars of literature, reproductive cultures and politics, and feminists situated across the disciplines."
—Alys Eve Weinbaum, author of Wayward Reproductions: Genealogies of Race and Nation in Trans-Atlanti

"This absorbing, well-argued book presents a compelling survey of late-19th- and early-20th-century literary and cultural documents that reflected and shaped attitudes toward abortion. Weingarten offers fascinating readings of well-known works...and studies them alongside less-known works...and various films. In addition to providing illuminating close analyses of particular scenes in these works, Weingarten carefully contextualizes contemporary politics. Highly recommended."

"In a time when there are daily threats to women’s reproductive rights, Weingarten’s Abortion in the American Imagination is prescient and needed, reminding us all to question our discursive assumptions about a notoriously divisive issue."
—American Studies

Author / Editor Bio

 KAREN WEINGARTEN is an assistant professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York. 

Table Of Contents


1. The Biopolitics of Abortion as the Century Turns
2. The Inadvertent Alliance of Anthony Comstock and Margaret Sanger: Choice, Rights, and Freedom in Modern America
3. The Eugenics of Bad Girls: Abortion, Popular Fiction, and Population Control
4. Economies of Abortion: Money, Markets, and the Scene of Exchange
5. Making a Living: Labor, Life, and Abortion Rhetoric
Epilogue: 1944 and Beyond

Works Cited


Israeli Women's Studies
Esther Fuchs
Resistance of the Heart
Nathan Stoltzfus
Morning After
Heather Munro Prescott
Psychic Hold of Slavery
Soyica Diggs Colbert, Robert J. Patterson, Aida Levy-Hussen