Reproductive Rights: Who Decides?

Reproductive Rights: Who Decides?
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Release Date
January 01, 2016
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Throughout history, men and women have always found ways to control reproduction. In some ancient societies, people turned to herbs or traditional rituals. Others turned to methods that are still used in the twenty-first century, such as abstinence, condoms, and abortions.

Legislating access to birth control, sex education, and abortion is also not new. In 1873 the US Congress made it illegal to mail 'obscene, lewd, or lascivious materials'—including any object designed for contraception or to induce abortion. In some states in the 1900s, it was illegal for Americans to possess, sell, advertise, or even speak about methods of controlling pregnancy.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Margaret Sanger, Mary Ware Dennett, and others began to defy these laws and advocate for the legalization of birth control and for better women's reproductive healthcare. By 1960 doctors had developed the Pill, but it wasn't until 1972 that all US citizens had legal access to birth control. And in the landmark decision Roe v Wade (1973), the US Supreme Court ruled that women had a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Disputes over contraception, sex education, and abortion continue to roil the nation, leading to controversial legal and political rulings and occasionally violence. As society changes—and as new reproductive technologies expand the possibilities for controlling and initiating pregnancy—Americans will continue to debate reproductive rights for all.

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Very Complete Overview of Difficult Topic
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Starting with ancient methods of birth control, this book covers a variety of issues involved with women's attempts to control the number of offspring they have and the social issues that go along with the practices of various eras. The Victorians get a chapter of their own which addresses both the innovations in contraception, the desperate need for it among the poor, and the complicated social structures of the times. Once the book starts to cover the 29th century, when society started to more openly address these issues, things get really interesting. I did not know, for example, about Mary Ware Dennett, and the fact that she considered Margaret Sanger's attempts to make birth control and birth control information widely available detrimental to the movement because she was so outspoken! Sanger is much more widely known, so the fact that Wittenstein covers lesser known historical figures makes this book a great resource. The information about the development and wide-spread adoption of the birth control pill also informed me of people as issues of which I'd never heard.
Good Points
The politics of reproduction are addressed as well. There are even two sections entitled "Pro-life Tactics" and "Pro-Choice Tactics" that address the political stances of both groups in admirably calm language. While all sides are given mention and considered, and the tone of the book is very factual and even tempered, it's clear, even from the title, that this is a book about giving women as many options as they can about their own bodies.

Other topics, such as advances in infertility treatment, surrogacy, sexual violence, and issues with reproductive rights around the world, are covered as well, making this an essential high school resource about reproductive issues that is an essential purpose for high school libraries. I can see this being used for debate topics, studies of social history, and women's studies.

Mature middle school students could handle this if they have some previous knowledge, but this is primarily a book for high school students.
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