REVIEW: Scarlet A: The Ethics, Law, and Politics of Ordinary Abortion, Katie Watson

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Although Roe v. Wade identified abortion as a constitutional right over 40 years ago, it bears stigma--a proverbial scarlet A--in the United States. Millions participate in or benefit from an abortion, but few want to reveal that they have done so. Approximately one in five pregnancies in the US ends in abortion. Why is something so common, which has been legal so long, still a source of shame and secrecy? Why is it so regularly debated by politicians, and so seldom divulged from friend to friend, or loved one to loved one? This book explores the personal stigma that prevents many from sharing their abortion experiences with friends and family in private conversation, and the structural stigma that keeps it that way. It argues persuasively that America would benefit from working to reverse such stigma, providing readers with tools that may help them model ways of doing so. Our silence around private experience with abortion has distorted our public discourse. Both proponents and opponents of abortion's legality tend to focus on the extraordinary cases. This tendency keeps the public discourse polarized and contentious, and keeps the focus on the cases that occur the least. Katie Watson focuses instead on the remaining 95% of abortion cases. The book gives the reflective reader a more accurate impression of what the majority of American abortion practice really looks like. It explains why this public/private disjuncture exists, what it costs us, and what can be gained by including ordinary abortion in public debate. 
In Scarlet A, Katie Watson has managed to create an incredibly accessible and comprehensive introduction to the abortion debate, both to both sides of the arguments and to the individual experiences of people who have had abortions. Because of this, I think that I would probably have gotten more out of the book if I had known absolutely nothing about the subject going into it, as it gives even the least informed a well-reasoned argument - although perhaps in such a way that some parts of it are incredibly simplistic and honestly, some of the writing feels as though it was directed at children.
But I believe, when it comes to the topic of abortion, the most important thing that people can do is to introduce new people to the argument, instead of listening to the same voices; to inform the wider community and make everyone more aware, instead of just the people who have already come into direct or indirect contact with abortion. 
This is something that Scarlet A succeeds incredibly in, with it truly managing to break the stigma and taboo surrounding the topic, and in the future, it will be one which I will be pointing anyone who wishes to know more about abortion in the direction of.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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