A Woman’s Life Is a Human Life is the story of the movements that transformed the politics of reproductive rights: the fight to decriminalize abortion and the campaign against sterilization abuse, at a time when sterilization was disproportionately proposed as birth control to Black, Latinx, and poor women. Their victories occurred just before and after Roe v. Wade, and their histories cast new light on the case and the fate of reproductive rights and justice today. From dissident Democrats and members of a rising feminist movement who refashioned abortion laws, to progressive ministers and rabbis who led the nation’s largest abortion referral service, to Puerto Rican activists who introduced sterilization abuse to the reproductive rights agenda and Black women who took the cause global, A Woman’s Life Is a Human Life chronicles how activists changed the law and demanded reproductive justice. The first in-depth study of a winning campaign to change a state’s abortion law, with firsthand accounts and previously unseen sources—including from her mother, who drafted New York’s law decriminalizing abortion, and across-the-hall neighbor, Dr. Helen Rodríguez-Trías, a Puerto Rican doctor and leader in the movement against sterilization abuse—Felicia Kornbluh shows how grassroots action overcame the odds—and how it might work today.
Praise for A Woman’s Life is a Human Life:
“This long-needed essential history fills our gap of understanding of how the concept of reproductive rights, a recognition of the multiple issues that women need in order to have reproductive control over our lives, grew from grassroots movements in the creative and dynamic environment of New York City in the 1970’s and 80’s. This expansion of understanding on a big-tent political model, was ultimately defeated by the rise of the religious right and its coalition with economic conservatives, colliding with the personal limits of the individuals who created a radical alternative to single issue abortion rights politics. However, they won significant victories to combat sterilization abuse and expanded the collective analysis for the future. Felicia Kornbluh makes an important and enlightening contribution to the history of American radicalism and social movements.”—Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP, NY 1987-1993
“Felicia Kornbluh’s deeply original and important history highlights how much more complex reproductive rights issues once were than most proponents now realize. Her fascinating and compelling account of how groups such as Planned Parenthood struggled with the challenges posed by newer activists makes A Woman’s Life essential reading in these harrowing days.”—David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Liberty and Sexuality”
“A Woman’s Life is a Human Life charts the organizing for legal abortion alongside the work to eliminate sterilization abuse. Kornbluh argues persuasively that activists won legal abortion and regulations to prevent coerced sterilization through intensive, years-long, multi-racial grassroots organizing. At the same time, she reveals the tactics that succeeded as well as the divisions and mistakes that arose from homophobia and white middle-class racial privilege. This detailed and lively history of the New York movement will be an important handbook for today’s reproductive rights activists.”—Leslie J. Reagan, author of When Abortion Was a Crime
“Moving from the local to the national and from grassroots politics to the legislature and the courts, this is the first real chronicle of the reproductive rights movement of the past sixty years. Extremely valuable, lively, and personal, Felicia Kornbluh’s book compares the role of women like her lawyer mother, who wrote the first draft of a decriminalization bill, with that of Helen Rodriguez-Trías and her fellow activists, who pioneered expanding reproductive rights to achieve what today we call reproductive justice.”—Linda Gordon, University Professor of History, NYU
“This illuminating portrayal of the long feminist struggle for reproductive justice couldn’t be more timely. In recounting decades of organized activism to secure abortion rights and end sterilization abuse, this book provides eye-opening object lessons for today’s activists. Essential history vibrantly told.”—Alix Kates Shulman, author of the classic novel Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, and co-editor of Women’s Liberation! Feminist Writings that Inspired a Revolution & Still Can
“Felicia Kornbluh’s compelling book demonstrates how forced birth on the one hand, and sterilization on the other, are linked, and how individual activism turned personal experience into political change. A deeply interesting history.”—Linda Hirshman, author of Sisters in Law and The Reckoning