This post written by author Jaye Viner as a guest of The Book Slut. Viner's debut novel,
Jane of Battery Park, released August 31, 2021 (TODAY!) from Red Hen Press.
During the last of my pre-pandemic daily commutes, I listened to the audiobook of Lindy West’s, The Witches Are Coming. This collection is remarkable for many reasons, but for me it is the first place I learned about pro-abortion rhetoric. I’m a thirty-something, recovering ExVangelical who once upon a childhood was one of those indoctrinated youngsters holding signs at abortion clinics with my church. Most of my adult life, I’ve believed in the right of women to make any and all choices about their bodies. But those beliefs didn’t come with the same level of indoctrination of my childhood. So, I came to West’s essay, “What is an Abortion Anyway?” still really just knowing that I didn’t agree with what I’d been taught as a child. I had no idea that there was a whole other conversation, a ShoutYourAbortion, conversation, a conversation about how, even in liberal and secular circles, women felt shame for having abortions and kept them a secret.
This felt huge to me because I’d just assumed that since I’d joined the ranks of progressive liberal, highly educated people with financially infeasible fine arts degrees, abortion was just a normal thing that happened. I wrote my debut novel, Jane of Battery Park, with the assumption that there was a line, and that only women like my main character Jane, whose evangelical husband switches her birth control with placebos so she’ll get pregnant, would feel shame over having an abortion. Her story is a journey towards owning her abortion as the right choice and beginning to believe she isn’t ruined or unlovable. Writing this story as a pro-abortion person, looking back on my religious life, the abortion felt like a small part of a bigger women’s empowerment story. But, as West taught me, stories where a woman has an abortion and isn’t a ruined woman are still pretty unusual. Here are some novels I’ve read that give women powerful stories of having abortions and one that reflects more common abortion perceptions.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
Set in an alternate America where abortion is illegal, each of the main characters in this novel have a different position in relation to reproduction. One desperately wants to get pregnant, one gives illegal abortions and is arrested, one is a teenager who gets pregnant and needs help before her future is ruined. My greatest horror reading this novel was that the teen girl would end up dead or mortally wounded trying to get an illegal abortion, because subconsciously that’s the story I’ve been taught to expect, to believe is credible. Spoiler alert: the abortion scene is so humane and beautiful for this young girl, I cried.
The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka
Two sisters search for their father and their place in the world while trying to understand their unusual upbringing by their single, often unemployed, mother. In remote Alaska, one sister’s frantic search for a morning after pill was practical, blended with the rest of the plot, and presented as completely normal. This search leads her to a great romance that transforms her life for the better.
the Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
This is a sci-fi novel about time traveler activists fighting against another group to control women’s reproductive health across time. In one timeline, a character gets pregnant; her abortion is a shameful secret that defines her life. In another timeline, history has been edited so abortion is never a legal thing in the U.S, and the same character’s life is even more of a wreck than before. In another timeline, that character has an abortion with the full support of those who love her and moves on with her life in normal and healthy way.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
This Scarlet Letter retelling in a dystopian America where a woman goes to jail for having an abortion and then is released with her skin dyed red is another great book that doesn’t ever question the legitimacy of the choice to have an abortion even in the face of extreme punishment. Her life is ruined, but we as readers are on her side. Society is clearly the problem.
The Mothers by Brit Bennet
When a teen girl gets pregnant from her pastor’s son and has an abortion, the repercussions resonate over decades to eventually unravel a faith community. Told from the perspective of elderly church mothers, this novel differs from the others on this list in the idea that the girl remains a mother even though the abortion made her childless. Being a secret mother, she is marked by the legacy of her decision. At the end of the novel, even though she has a great career, the narrators determine she is incomplete and unfulfilled, inviting readers to believe the same; a traditional abortion narrative that seems to cancel out all the great things the character was able to do with her life.
Jane of Battery Park by Jaye Viner
An engrossing love story superimposed against a backdrop of Christian fundamentalism and domestic terrorism, Jane of Battery Park is an abortion-positive novel. The title character, Jane, reclaims her power by having an abortion after her husband causes her to become pregnant by secretly switching her birth control pills with placebos. Jane is still deserving of love on her own terms, and this is a very powerful thing.
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