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PS Picks: Katie Watson's 'Scarlet A: The Ethics, Law, and Politics of Ordinary Abortion'

PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
Activists hold signs in front of the the United States Supreme Court during the 2018 March for Life on January 19th, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Pro-life activists try to block the signs of pro-choice activists in front of the the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2018 March for Life on January 19th, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Ilyse Hogue, president of the pro-choice group NARAL Pro-Choice America, disclosed the story of her abortion to an audience of over 50,000. "I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time," she said. "I made the decision that was best for me." Many praised Hogue for making history by becoming the first speaker to share her abortion story on a convention stage, and for shattering a "stigmatized glass ceiling" that keeps women from talking about their abortions. While support legalized abortions (59 percent) and approximately one in five pregnancies in the United States end in abortion, studies have found that two out of three women who have abortions anticipate stigma if others were to learn about it. In one national survey, 58 percent of women said they felt they needed to keep their abortion secret even from friends and family.

A new book by bioethicist and lawyer Katie Watson asks: Why do women still feel the need to stay silent on abortion? Dissecting the structural sources of stigma surrounding "ordinary abortions"—abortions not brought about by a medical crisis or sexual assault—Watson criticizes the state of public political discourse about women's reproductive rights. She argues that the tendency of both proponents and opponents of abortion to focus on extraordinary cases is counterproductive to women's reproductive freedom. By turning her focus to ordinary abortions, Watson aims to provide a more true-to-life picture of contemporary abortions, from the perspective of women who get them and the doctors who perform them. Disassembling the disparity between the reality of 21st-century abortions and the conversation that surrounds them, Watson hopes to invite more productive debates on women's reproductive rights.

A version of this story originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine.