Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights

jane against the world

From award-winning author Karen Blumenthal, Jane Against the World is deep and passionate look at the riveting history of the fight for reproductive rights in the United States.

Tracing the path to the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade and the continuing battle for women's rights, Blumenthal examines, in a straightforward tone, the root causes of the current debate around abortion and repercussions that have affected generations of American women.

This eye-opening book is the perfect tool to facilitate difficult discussions and awareness of a topic that is rarely touched on in school but affects each and every young person. It's also perfect for fans of Steve Sheinkin and Deborah Heiligman.

This journalistic look at the history of abortion and the landmark case of Roe v. Wade is an important and necessary book.---from the publisher

400 pages 978-1626721654 Ages 12 and up

Keywords: Supreme Court, abortion, law, politics, government, pregnancy, choices, human body, civil rights, women's rights, women, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old


“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

-- attributed to black feminist attorney Florynce Kennedy

“President Donald Trump pledged during his 2016 election campaign that he would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would ‘automatically’ overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion decision.

Four years later, Trump is seeking reelection, and his two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, will determine whether that promise is kept.”

-- CNBC, “Supreme Court abortion case tests Trump’s campaign promise to overture Roe v. Wade” (3/3/20)

“Walking toward the water

With a fetus holding court in my gut

My body hijacked

My tits swollen and sore

The river has more colors at sunset

Than my sock drawer ever dreamed of

I could wake up screaming sometimes

But I don’t

I could step off the end of this pier

But I got sh-- to do

And an appointment on Tuesday

To shed uninvited blood and tissue

I’ll miss you

I say to the water, to the son or daughter

I thought better of

I could fall in love with Jersey at sunset

But I leave the view to the rats

And tiptoe


-- Ani Difranco, “Tiptoe” (1995)

In JANE AGAINST THE WORLD, Karen Blumenthal tackles the history of birth control and abortion, from ancient times to Roe v. Wade, and then shows how the fight over these issues continues today. I’ve long enjoyed reading Blumenthal’s work for young people. As a career journalist, she really knows how to tell a story.

JANE AGAINST THE WORLD provides young readers plentiful food for thought. Blumenthal is balanced in her reporting, although my opinion is that it is pretty damn hard to finish this book and not feel that the determination of women to control their own bodies and to have the resources necessary to do so--reproductive justice--is one more civil rights challenge to be fought and overcome.

The author does a great job of providing important background information. For example, while writing about an example of the sorts of restrictions that states and municipalities try to put on abortion, the author makes a point of including an informational parenthetical response to the account of a Sandra Day O’Connor dissent.

“[Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s] first abortion test came during the 1982-83 term, a decade after Roe. The city of Akron, Ohio--along with some other cities and states--had passed a number of restrictions intended to make abortions more difficult to get. Among other things, second-trimester abortions had to be performed in a hospital, women had to wait twenty-four hours after signing consent forms before they could have the procedure, and minors had to get a parent’s consent. In addition, a doctor was forced to tell them that ‘the unborn child is human life from the moment of conception,’ that abortion was major surgery, and that they faced potential complications intended to make abortion sound dangerous, even though the true risks of complication were low.

In a six-to-three decision, issued in June 1983, the court ruled that those restrictions failed to contribute to a woman’s health or make an abortion safer. The waiting period increased the cost, the required lecture interfered with the doctor-patient relationship, and the required parental consent did not allow a young woman to prove she was mature enough to make her own decision.

O’Connor disagreed with the decision and wrote the dissent, which the two Roe v. Wade dissenters, Rehnquist and White, joined. She particularly took issue with the trimester approach, calling it ‘unworkable’ because medical technology changes. Viability would get earlier, she predicted, while abortion procedures would get easier and safer, ultimately colliding with each other.

(Today, infants born at twenty-five weeks have a fair chance of survival with intensive medical care, though most will have some disabilities. A small percentage of infants born at twenty-two weeks survive, but nearly all will have disabilities. Fetuses born earlier than that do not have the skin, lungs, or bodily systems to survive.)”

New York was one of the first states to legalize abortion. As that legislation was being debated a half-century ago, a key cosponsor, Constance Cook, spoke the truth that, regardless of laws and impediments, women will get abortions, It’s just a matter of where they will get them, how much they will cost, and how safe they will be.

“‘There are many who say this bill is abortion on demand,’ she told the assembly. ‘I submit that we have abortion on demand in the state of New York right now. Any woman who wants an abortion can get one. And the real difference is how much money she has to spend.’

A woman with $2,500 [equivalent to $16,500 today] could travel for a safe abortion. A woman with $25 ‘has it done here under the most abominable circumstances. And if she doesn’t have the $25, she can abort herself. And regretfully, this is happening more often than your or I like to admit.’”

The author concludes the book with backmatter that includes terminology, a timeline, and an annotated list of important cases.

JANE AGAINST THE WORLD is a perfect companion to the author’s 2005 LET ME PLAY: THE STORY OF TITLE IX, THE LAW THAT CHANGED THE FUTURE OF GIRLS IN AMERICA.  Both of these books climax at the same time that the Equal Rights Amendment was being passed by Congress and sent off to the states for ratification. Together, these two essential reads for tweens and teens present an unrivaled history of women’s rights issues in post-WWII America that are just as relevant today.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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