The Birth of Roe: A Review of Jane Against the World

The Birth of Roe: A Review of Jane Against the World

In the post I wrote one year ago, Why the March for Life is Not Pro-Life, I remarked that Roe v. Wade wasn’t likely to see its 50-year anniversary, and I was right. It is a heavy weekend for abortion rights supporters, but that is all the more reason for us to continue to fight back.

Jane Against the World

We never would have had even the limited freedom granted to us by Roe if it wasn’t for the courage of lawyer Sarah Weddington in the early 1970s. In Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights, Karen Blumenthal shared Weddington’s story and more with an audience of young readers in 2019.

Jane Against the World is the only book that I know of that explains the history of reproductive rights to teenagers, and because of that, it is essential. It tells a story that I’ve otherwise found spread across several books, including Wrath of Angels, Killing the Black Body, and The Story of Jane. But I’m sure that teens don’t have the time or motivation to devour an entire stack of books in order to learn about the history of abortion rights in America. Jane Against the World is a relatively short, accessible book in a fair and readable tone that tells the important parts of the story without overly biased or technical language.

Sarah Weddington in 1970.
Sarah Weddington in 1970.

What to expect

Other characters starring in Jane Against the World include Linda Coffee, Norma McCorvey, Harry Blackmun, Sherri Chessen, Estelle Griswold, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Alan Guttmacher, Jane Hodgson, and Margaret Sanger.

Obviously, anyone of any age who wants to know the issue of the abortion struggle would find this book useful. Granted, most of the information in the book is explained in a decent amount of detail in the first two chapters (40 pages) of Wrath of Angels, but Wrath of Angels also includes a very long, borderline insufferable, account of the history of abortion clinic protestors in the following 337 pages.

Even with the simplified language in Jane Against the World, there were times when I felt like Blumenthal went into more detail of the back-and-forth between Supreme Court justices surrounding the Roe decision than was entirely necessary for a succinct young-adult book. It’s entirely possible that this is merely a reflection of my inability to comprehend legal talk, as I also pointed out in my review of American Crusade. But I don’t know how many teenagers are fluent in legal lingo, either.

Reproductive justice

More objectively, I wish that Blumenthal had devoted more time to the reproductive justice movement that began with SisterSong’s predecessor in 1994. She does emphasize at times that women of color and poor women face greater barriers to abortion access than white women, but it is rarely the central focus of a chapter or one of the “Pregnant Pause” sections between chapters. Notably, Blumenthal does discuss Margaret Sanger’s eugenicist leanings, and she dedicates a Pregnant Pause to the forced sterilization of Black women.

All that SisterSong itself gets is a single paragraph ten pages from the end of the book that reads,

For many, abortion is not really about choice, but about making services women need accessible. That’s why more and more people are calling for reproductive justice, a term coined by a group of African American women in 1994 that has won a broader audience. In its simplest form, reproductive justice is the right to control your own body, to have a child or to not have a child, and to raise children in safe and sustainable communities. It’s a broad issue that includes the impact of poverty and discrimination, as well as access to effective schools, affordable housing, and good jobs. Access to contraception and abortion are only a part of it.

Karen Blumenthal, Jane Against the World, p. 309

It’s true, and it’s a great paragraph, but I believe it deserved at least a few more pages.

Gender inclusivity

Directly before that paragraph, Blumenthal wrote, “In addition, trans and non-gender-conforming people also need reproductive health care.” This was the only time that gender-expansive people were mentioned in the entire book. I know that in the early 70s when most of the book took place, people did not have the language or freedom to publicly identify as trans, but I wish that Blumenthal had made a personal effort throughout the book to include all pregnancy-capable people and not just women in her language. That would have made a perfect Pregnant Pause, but it somehow didn’t make the cut.

Abortion lawsuits today

Overall, Jane Against the World is a great primer to get readers up-to-speed on abortion rights efforts and restrictions up until 2019, but less than four years later, it’s already outdated. You could probably fill an entire book with the story of the politics and Supreme Court musical chairs that resulted in the Dobbs decision, and all the new lawsuits that follow it and have yet to come.

Perhaps a future book will discuss the groundbreaking new lawsuit that my employer, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, just filed against Missouri for its eight-week abortion ban. We’ve claimed that the ban, which legislators justified using overt religious language, violated the Missouri Constitution’s guarantee of church-state separation. Our plaintiffs include Jewish, Christian, and Unitarian Universalist clergypeople who argue that an abortion ban violates their freedom of religion. The idea that life begins at conception is not medical and certainly not legal, but theological. And it is not their theology.

Personally, this is the most amazing project I’ve ever done. I was able to play a huge role alongside our stellar communications team and photographers in creating videos upon videos upon videos, as well as rally signs and social media graphics. If you had told me when I started this blog anonymously at Grove City College six years ago that I would be working with Americans United to sue to legalize abortion… I would barely have believed you.

If you want to see some of my work (and there is so much more to come!), check out AU’s TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter, or learn more about the case on our website.

What do you think?