Pro by Katha Pollitt

Pro by Katha PollittPro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt
Published by Picador on October 14, 2014
Pages: 258
Source: I purchased a copy of this book.
IndieBoundBarnes & Noble

Forty years after the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, "abortion" is still a word that is said with outright hostility by many, despite the fact that one in three American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy by menopause. Even those who support a woman's right to an abortion often qualify their support by saying abortion is a "bad thing," an "agonizing decision," making the medical procedure so remote and radioactive that it takes it out of the world of the everyday, turning an act that is normal and necessary into something shameful and secretive. Meanwhile, with each passing day, the rights upheld by the Supreme Court are being systematically eroded by state laws designed to end abortion outright.
In this urgent, controversial book, Katha Pollitt reframes abortion as a common part of a woman's reproductive life, one that should be accepted as a moral right with positive social implications. In Pro, Pollitt takes on the personhood argument, reaffirms the priority of a woman's life and health, and discusses why terminating a pregnancy can be a force for good for women, families, and society. It is time, Pollitt argues, that we reclaim the lives and the rights of women and mothers.




Katha Pollitt doesn’t strive to reach pro-life readers in Pro. Instead, she attempts to speak to those in the middle. Unfortunately, it felt like she was speaking to those who already fully and passionately agree with her. This book could have been a lot more powerful than it ended up being, but logical fallacies and dismissive comments weakened her arguments at times.

Pollitt goes after Libertarians in a way that hints that she doesn’t fully understand what they believe, specifically by using two Republicans as examples of how “Libertarians” are pro-life. Libertarians do not believe the government should interfere with a woman’s right to make that decision for herself [source].

Also, Pollitt struck a preemie mom nerve in one of her arguments. She claims stress is “a significant factor in premature delivery” but her citation is fourteen years out of date. Current research shows there may be a link for spontaneous preterm deliveries (no link for the majority of indicated preterm deliveries) but it is far from conclusive [source]. Honestly, her stress argument was too broad and too inflated to be accurate, and felt like yet another way of blaming women for something they can’t control.

I also felt Pollitt came across a little cold and dismissive toward those who struggle with abortions taking place beyond the first trimester. I’ve been pro-choice for a long time, but spending time in a Level III NICU opened my eyes: I can see why some are hesitant to claim the “pro-choice” label. A bit of understanding in those passages could have gone a long way, if Pollitt was truly attempting to reach the “muddled middle,” as she calls them.

Despite my own hangups with the book, I think for the most part Pollitt plays pretty fair in Pro, which is hard to do with a topic that is so intermeshed with religion and politics. She doesn’t lump all Christians into one viewpoint, for example, recognizing that there are mainline and progressive denominations that either are, or at least lean, pro-choice. And she points out flaws she sees in the anti-choice movement (and the middle) no matter what political leanings are involved in her examples. I also appreciated the way she brought human stories to the conversation, shining a light on real, difficult struggles women face when abortion isn’t accessible to them. Although it got repetitive at times, Pro still gave me a few things to think about, even though I was already pro-choice when I picked up the book. Worth the read, but I wished I’d looked for it at the library instead.


  • Now I feel I can read this armed with some good information from someone who knows what she’s talking about. You have a unique perspective and I’m super glad you reviewed this!

  • Thank you so much for this thoughtful review. Even if I am pro-choice it is concerning when the truth is neglected to make a point. I despise it in politicians like Carly Fiorina and had hoped that Pollitt would make a case without stretching it or ignoring alternative viewpoints.

    • My thoughts exactly, Catherine!!

    • Yeah, I think it’s always worth taking a *serious* look at why people believe what they do, even when we disagree.

  • Sounds like an interesting read into a very delicate topic, but I can understand the authors reluctance to target pro-life readers. This is one of those subjects where emotions run so deeply that intellectual arguements cannot penetrate or alter beliefs.

    It is unfortunate that the cited research is a little dated. Using old data to make a point tends to make me a bit skeptical.

    • Yeah, I can understand avoiding trying to reach pro-lifers, too. There’s almost no point. But I’m on the fence as to how effective it was for those in the middle. (Just the phrase “muddled middle” is kind of dismissive…)

      I’m sure there was plenty of up to date research that was fine. And she openly and liberally cites, so that’s cool. But some of it felt a little…stretched? I tried to remind myself of the “fallacy fallacy” as I read, ha! Because I am pro-choice and mostly agreed with her. 🙂

  • I like that you pointed out it wasn’t as aimed at the middle as the author maybe claims, but I think it’s hard to aim directly at the middle. I think this is a great review and you’ve renewed my interest in this!