The shortest book tour there ever was: After Sex and other news
When the US Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ultimately overturned federal protection for abortion in June 2022. At the time, I was livid, devastated, and dismayed by the political direction in the US and the implications it would have for future generations. The idea that a nine-person committee could determine the fate of millions of women revealed how undemocratic the US government is, as well as the international reach it would have to limit people’s right to determine what happened to their bodies. Not only had this been one iteration of far-right organising in the country, something that I witnessed while living abroad, but the decision revealed conservatives’ anxieties about sex.
As such, Alice and I spent a year exchanging text messages and emails about the history, law, and literature that has shaped abortion rights across both sides of the Atlantic. We read about ancient condoms, medieval abortifacients, and forced sterilisation. As we reckoned with what was happening in the US, we also sought literary refuge from our favourite thinkers, with the idea of inspiring hope in ourselves and others.
At the heart of After Sex is a selection of reflections, stories, and poetry about reproductive justice. Alice and I were heartened by theorists such as bell hooks, science fiction writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin, and feminist collectives such as Sistersong. The contributors are part of a long legacy of people striving to prevent or terminate pregnancy. Still, their work is grounded on the idea that people should create families of their choosing when they are ready, with all the necessary resources. Many of them demand free abortion, upon demand, and free childcare for everyone. This is the bare minimum, of course. And this is why reading can allow us to enter a new world of possibility.
We argue that the right to privacy, access, and decriminalisation of abortion are essential. Still, beyond that, we also wanted to expand on what an abortion and reproductive rights narrative is: Maggie Doherty’s The Abortion Stories We Tell looks at the history of speak-outs by radical feminist groups such as the Red Stockings Collective. We learn that the women's liberation movement was fighting for equality in a true sense: division of labour, equal pay, and bodily autonomy. We wanted to echo Sophie Lewis’s sentiments and affirm the right not to be pregnant should be the centre of debate and the literary subtleties of how to have an abortion in Jamaica Kincaid’s poem Girl. This book is an intergenerational narrative, but of course, it is not perfect. Missing from our anthology are non-English sources and explicit transgender experiences around abortions, but I highly recommend reading Michelle W. Tam’s ‘Queering Reproductive Access’ in Reproductive Health Journal, in which Tam argues that reproductive health is an intersectional issue.
Since the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, there have been six ballot measures addressing abortion — the most on record for a single year. Pro-choice measures were approved in California, Michigan, and Vermont. Anti-choice measures were defeated in Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana. The 2023 Ohio reproductive rights initiative, officially titled ‘The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety’ and listed on the ballot as Issue 1, was a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment that was adopted on 7 November 2023, by a majority of 56.6% of voters. I am hopeful about the momentum of pro-choice activists and invite people to share about the activism that they have done around abortion access here in Europe and beyond.