The most recommended books on abortion

Who picked these books? Meet our 29 experts.

29 authors created a book list connected to abortion, and here are their favorite abortion books.
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Book cover of Eve: The Disobedient Future of Birth

Sydney Calkin Author Of Abortion Pills Go Global: Reproductive Freedom across Borders

From my list on abortion and reproductive rights.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a feminist academic and activist, I am personally committed to the cause of reproductive freedom. Professionally, I've spent the past seven years carrying out research on abortion pills and their travels around the globe. This research involved more than eighty interviews with activists and doctors across the world, as well as analysis of many different text sources. My work has also taken me into activist spaces across Europe, as a volunteer with the Abortion Support Network. Although I entered the topic of reproductive rights through my interest in abortion, reading widely in the field has led me to pursue research interests in reproductive and biomedical technologies in other areas of sexual and reproductive health. 

Sydney's book list on abortion and reproductive rights

Sydney Calkin Why did Sydney love this book?

Eve tackles the topic of ectogenesis – gestation outside the womb. From literature to bioethics to cutting-edge medical research, the book examines this complex topic in creative ways.

Its chapter on abortion politics is particularly insightful because it considers how technology that allows for gestation in artificial wombs might lead to restrictions in abortion laws.

Horn’s writing blends sociological, legal, and bioethical analysis together with personal reflections on her own experience of pregnancy.

Not only is this one of the best books I’ve read on reproductive politics, but it’s one of the best books on the experience of being pregnant because it beautifully reflects on the complex social meanings of pregnancy and its physical embodiment. Eve is written in a highly accessible style, so readers without prior knowledge of the topic will find the narrative compelling.

By Claire Horn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eve as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SELECTED AS A NEW SCIENTIST 'BOOKS TO EXPAND YOUR MIND'

'THOUGHTFUL ... EXAMINES THE BOUNDARIES OF MOTHERHOOD THROUGH AN UNUSUAL LENS: ARTIFICIAL WOMBS. ... A SKILLED WRITER WITH A CAREFUL GRASP OF HER SUBJECT AND ITS FASCINATING HISTORY' Angela Saini, Telegraph

'AN ENGROSSING INSIGHT INTO THE FUTURE OF BIRTH THROUGH THE LENSES OF THE MOST PRESSING WOMEN'S HEALTH ISSUES OF OUR ERA' New Statesman

Throughout human history, every single one of us has been born from a person. So far. But that is about to change.

Scientific research is on the cusp of being able to grow babies outside human…


Book cover of Legal Medicine in History

Katherine D. Watson Author Of Medicine and Justice: Medico-Legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914

From my list on the history of forensic medicine.

Why am I passionate about this?

I work on topics where medicine, crime, and the law intersect, aided by an undergraduate degree in chemistry and stimulated by my fascination with how criminal justice systems work. I have published on the history of poisoning, vitriol attacks, assault, child murder, and the role of scientific expertise in criminal investigations and trials, focusing on Britain since the seventeenth century. I’ve contributed to many TV documentaries over the years, and enjoy the opportunity to explain just why the history of crime is about so much more than individual criminals: it shows us how people in the past lived their lives and helps explain how we got where we are today.  


Katherine's book list on the history of forensic medicine

Katherine D. Watson Why did Katherine love this book?

Newcomers to the subject can turn to this indispensable collection of essays for an outstanding introduction to the key legal, institutional, and professional foundations of forensic medicine in Europe and the United States since the seventeenth century. Case studies of infanticide, the mentally ill, coroners’ inquests, and abortion show just how deeply embedded in social, political, and legal contexts forensic practices are, and highlight their power to inspire and shape socio-legal change. 

By Michael Clark (editor), Catherine Crawford (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Legal Medicine in History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of essays presents fresh interpretations of the growth of medico-legal ideas, institutions and practices in Britain, Europe and America over the past four hundred years. Based on a wealth of new research, it brings the historical study of legal medicine firmly into the realm of social history. Case studies of infanticide, abortion, coroners' inquests and criminal insanity show that legal medicine has often been the focus of social change and political controversy. The contributors also emphasise the formative influence of legal systems on medico-legal knowledge and practice. Legal Medicine in History enlarges our understanding of the public role…


Book cover of Mommy Laid An Egg: Or, Where Do Babies Come From?

Sara Zaske Author Of Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children

From my list on raising self-reliant children.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer who lived in Germany for more than six years with my family. That experience opened my eyes to a different way of parenting in a country that had learned hard lessons about too much authoritarian control. It also taught me that much of what we believe is “true” about raising kids is actually cultural—and therefore, can be changed. In addition to my book about raising kids in Germany, Achtung Baby, I’ve written extensively on raising self-reliant kids, including articles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Time.com among others.

Sara's book list on raising self-reliant children

Sara Zaske Why did Sara love this book?

When my daughter was in first grade in Germany, her teacher read this book to her entire class. Sex education is considered a right in Germany since knowing how your body works is essential for your reproductive health. In the U.S. it’s left to us as parents to teach sex ed to our kids—which I’d argue is less than ideal, given the high costs of keeping kids ignorant. (The U.S. has higher rates of teen AIDS, teen pregnancy, and abortion than Germany.) If you don’t know how to broach this subject, this book is a good, age-appropriate, place to start when your young kids first begin asking questions.

By Babette Cole,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mommy Laid An Egg as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two children explain to their parents, using their own drawings, where babies come from.


Book cover of When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973

Nicholas L. Syrett Author Of The Trials of Madame Restell: Nineteenth-Century America's Most Infamous Female Physician and the Campaign to Make Abortion a Crime

From my list on revealing the unexpected history of abortion in the US.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am fascinated by how gender and sex, characteristics of our beings that we take to be the most intimate and personal, are just as subject to external forces as anything else in history. I have written about the cultivation of masculinity in college fraternities, the history of young people and the age of consent to marriage, and about a same-sex couple who lived publicly as “father and son” in order to be together. My most recent book is a biography of an abortion provider in nineteenth-century America who became the symbol that doctors and lawyers demonized as they worked to make abortion a crime. I am a professor at the University of Kansas. 

Nicholas' book list on revealing the unexpected history of abortion in the US

Nicholas L. Syrett Why did Nicholas love this book?

This is the definitive account of what abortion looked like for the one hundred years during which it was almost completely illegal in the United States.

Reagan does an excellent job of showing us the different ways that women nevertheless accessed abortion care during that time, even as she points out how access was always shaped by race and class.

She is also great at demonstrating how and why police and lawmakers cracked down on abortion and made it less accessible at particular moments in this one-hundred-year period, ultimately showing why it was eventually decriminalized in 1973. 

By Leslie J. Reagan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked When Abortion Was a Crime as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive history of abortion in the United States, with a new preface that equips readers for what's to come.

When Abortion Was a Crime is the must-read book on abortion history. Originally published ahead of the thirtieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, this award-winning study was the first to examine the entire period during which abortion was illegal in the United States, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century and ending with that monumental case in 1973. When Abortion Was a Crime is filled with intimate stories and nuanced analysis, demonstrating how abortion was criminalized and policed-and how millions of women…


Book cover of Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood

Pamela S. Nadell Author Of America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

From my list on memoirs through the voices of women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of history and Jewish studies at American University and author of America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today, winner of the National Jewish Book Award – 2019 Jewish Book of the Year. Since childhood I have been reading stories of women’s lives and tales set in Jewish communities across time and space. Yet, the voices that so often best evoke the past are those captured on the pages of great memoirs.

Pamela's book list on memoirs through the voices of women

Pamela S. Nadell Why did Pamela love this book?

In this evocative memoir, the first in a series of three and a New York Times 1982 best book of the year, Simon, a travel writer, captures the world of an immigrant child growing up in the Bronx in the 1920s. Their fathers were harsh disciplinarians; mothers knew abortion to be the most effective birth control; and daughters saw poor scores in math crush their dreams. A story of triumph over the odds, of female rebellion, and of the many ways of learning, this memoir evokes a bygone world that also feels very contemporary.

By Kate Simon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bronx Primitive as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"As an account of growing up female, it is a fit companion piece to Mary McCarthy's classic Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood." Le Anne Schreiber, The New York Times.


Book cover of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service

Kimberly A. Hamlin Author Of Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener

From my list on women fighting for bodily and political autonomy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in 1974 and grew up in a time when, at least on paper, women had equal rights. I also grew up not far from Harriet Tubman’s home, not far from Seneca Falls, not far from Susan B. Anthony’s house. I became a historian of women’s rights and, I sometimes joke, a secular evangelical for women’s history. Writing Free Thinker was, professionally, the most fun I have ever had. I can think of no better time than right now to study the histories of women who understood that bodily autonomy and political autonomy are two sides of the same coin and who dedicated their lives to securing both. 

Kimberly's book list on women fighting for bodily and political autonomy

Kimberly A. Hamlin Why did Kimberly love this book?

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs, I think it is imperative to remember what life was like before Roe v. Wade and what women did to survive and to live their lives on their own terms. Kaplan’s book tells the story of the Jane Collective in the words of the women who made Jane work, which makes for powerful reading. And, I think it is important to ask ourselves what about today’s post-Roe era is “like before” and what is very different. For example, pre-Roe, most state restrictions on abortion contained exceptions for rape and incest. Post-Roe, nearly all state abortion bans contain no exceptions for rape or incest. The Story of Jane also chronicles, in some ways, a freer time in which one’s every query and movement was not tracked by one’s phone. 

By Laura Kaplan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Story of Jane as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An extraordinary history by one of its members, this is the first account of Jane's evolution, the conflicts within the group, and the impact its work had both on the women it helped and the members themselves. This book stands as a compelling testament to a woman's most essential freedom--control over her own body--and to the power of women helping women.


Book cover of Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe V. Wade

Sasha Issenberg Author Of The Engagement: America's Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage

From my list on Supreme Court cases.

Why am I passionate about this?

Sasha Issenberg has been a newspaper reporter, magazine writer, and editor, and teaches in the political science department at UCLA. He is the author of four books, on topics as varied as the global sushi business, medical tourism, and the science of political campaigns. The most recent tackles his most sweeping subject yet: the long and unlikely campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States. One of his favorite discoveries in the decade he spent researching the book was that a movement that ended with a landmark Supreme Court decision had been catalyzed by a Honolulu activist’s public-relations stunt sprawling out of control twenty-five years earlier.

Sasha's book list on Supreme Court cases

Sasha Issenberg Why did Sasha love this book?

In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Constitution guaranteed a “right to privacy” as it struck down Connecticut’s longstanding ban on the sale and use of birth control. (Amazing trivia: the state legislator who drafted the state’s 1879 anti-contraceptive law was P.T. Barnum.) Garrow’s history recounts the decades-long efforts of Connecticut activists to challenge the restriction, and how lawyers shifted their choice of plaintiffs from doctors asserting the law interfered with their ability to provide medical advice to married women claiming a right to privacy within their marriages. In the years following Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court gradually expanded that novel privacy doctrine, extending it to the intimate decisions of unmarried people, and eventually to cover the right to an abortion with Roe v. Wade.

By David J. Garrow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liberty and Sexuality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Liberty and Sexuality" is a definitive account of the legal and political struggles that created the right to privacy and won constitutional protection for a woman's right to choose abortion. Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established that right, grew out of not only efforts to legalize abortion but also out of earlier battles against statutes that criminalized birth control. When the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, voided such a prohibition as an outrageous intrusion upon marital privacy, it opened a previously unimagined constitutional door: the opportunity to argue that a…


Book cover of L’évenément

Madison Smartt Bell Author Of Behind the Moon

From Madison's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author I Do Not Follow Directions

Madison's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Madison Smartt Bell Why did Madison love this book?

I started reading Annie Ernaux because of her recent Nobel Prize and because her translations (although I’m reading her in French) are published by a friend of mine at Seven Stories Press. 

This book is typical of her short novels (which would qualify as autofiction in current terminology) in circling a topic ever more tightly until it yields the essence of its meaning. Here the event is an (illegal) abortion she had in 1963; no detail is spared, however grisly, and yet the whole of the story has a transcendent quality (although reading it now has a particular resonance, with abortion now illegal in many of the (dis)United States). 

If a boa constrictor could squeeze diamonds into coal, it would feel something like reading Annie Ernaux.  

By Annie Ernaux,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked L’évenément as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Depuis des années, je tourne autour de cet événement de ma vie. Lire dans un roman le récit d'un avortement me plonge dans un saisissement sans images ni pensées, comme si les mots se changeaient instantanément en sensation violente. De la même façon entendre par hasard La javanaise, J'ai la mémoire qui flanche, n'importe quelle chanson qui m'a accompagnée durant cette période, me bouleverse."Annie Ernaux. la couverture de l'article peut varier


Book cover of Dying to Count: Post-Abortion Care and Global Reproductive Health Politics in Senegal

Sydney Calkin Author Of Abortion Pills Go Global: Reproductive Freedom across Borders

From my list on abortion and reproductive rights.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a feminist academic and activist, I am personally committed to the cause of reproductive freedom. Professionally, I've spent the past seven years carrying out research on abortion pills and their travels around the globe. This research involved more than eighty interviews with activists and doctors across the world, as well as analysis of many different text sources. My work has also taken me into activist spaces across Europe, as a volunteer with the Abortion Support Network. Although I entered the topic of reproductive rights through my interest in abortion, reading widely in the field has led me to pursue research interests in reproductive and biomedical technologies in other areas of sexual and reproductive health. 

Sydney's book list on abortion and reproductive rights

Sydney Calkin Why did Sydney love this book?

Dying to Count offers the very best of academic writing: the book makes a complex but persuasive argument, based on richly detailed fieldwork in Senegal. It shows the human consequences of anti-abortion laws, but it moves well beyond describing the experiences of women seeking abortion or the dilemmas of their doctors.

Women experiencing spontaneous miscarriage often have the same symptoms as women with complications from illegal abortions, and they often need the same medical treatment. So where abortion is illegal, Suh shows, classifying an abortion as a miscarriage can give women access to essential medical treatment. However, it can also freeze bad laws and policies in place, dampening efforts to legalize safe abortion.

Suh’s book shows how the best social science analysis can illuminate a subject in so many ways – from stories of individual patients in Senegalese hospitals, testimony from doctors and health workers, analysis of national and international…

By Siri Suh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dying to Count as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the early 1990s, global health experts developed a new model of emergency obstetric care: post-abortion care or PAC. In developing countries with restrictive abortion laws and where NGOs relied on US family planning aid, PAC offered an apolitical approach to addressing the consequences of unsafe abortion. In Dying to Count, Siri Suh traces how national and global population politics collide in Senegal as health workers, health officials, and NGO workers strive to demonstrate PAC's effectiveness in the absence of rigorous statistical evidence that the intervention reduces maternal mortality. Suh argues that pragmatically assembled PAC data convey commitments to maternal…


Book cover of Abortion in Early Modern Italy

Julie Hardwick Author Of Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789

From my list on the history of sex.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like most people, I find the history of sex and everything associated with it fascinating! It’s often been difficult to document and interpret the complexities about heterosexuality, gender identity, and same-sex desire as well as women’s reproductive health which is intimately (although not exclusively of course) linked to sex. We are in a golden age of fantastic work on so many aspects of the history of sex. Apart from the intrinsic interest of these books, I think they provide such an important context for our very lively and often very intense contemporary legal, political, and cultural debates over sex in all its forms.

Julie's book list on the history of sex

Julie Hardwick Why did Julie love this book?

Who would have thought Catholic Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have tolerated widespread abortion? John Christopoulos brilliantly shows that, despite the moral proscription and legal prohibition of abortion from church and state leadership, women across the social spectrum from elites to peasants practiced abortion with the tacit or explicit support of key people in their communities. Compelling mini-narratives about individual women’s abortion stories are interwoven with an expert analysis of the legal, religious, and scientific knowledge and attitudes.

By John Christopoulos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Abortion in Early Modern Italy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A comprehensive history of abortion in Renaissance Italy.

In this authoritative history, John Christopoulos provides a provocative and far-reaching account of abortion in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy. His poignant portraits of women who terminated or were forced to terminate pregnancies offer a corrective to longstanding views: he finds that Italians maintained a fundamental ambivalence about abortion. Italians from all levels of society sought, had, and participated in abortions. Early modern Italy was not an absolute anti-abortion culture, an exemplary Catholic society centered on the "traditional family." Rather, Christopoulos shows, Italians held many views on abortion, and their responses to its…