The Abortion Myth

The Abortion Myth cover art

The Abortion Myth forges a new women-centred abortion ethic capable of preserving a woman’s right to control her body and her freedom to choose or reject motherhood. At the centre of the book are interviews with 45 ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ women. The women who share their stories have no doubt that it is their right to choose abortion. Yet many have begun to find the rumble of so many unanswered questions about the morality of this choice hard to ignore. Are some pregnancies irresponsible? What reasons for having an abortion are bad ones? Does the fetus matter, how much and why? And even if a woman has a right to choose abortion, is it always right for her to make that choice?

Written in an engaging and easy-to-read style, The Abortion Myth is a book no one who cares about the fate of women’s reproductive freedoms in a rapidly changing world can afford to miss.

The Abortion Myth received an “outstanding” mark in the ALA 2002 University Press Books Selected for Public and Secondary School Libraries, 12th Edition.

What people are saying about The Abortion Myth

“The women I interviewed, no matter what side of the abortion fence they were on,” writes Leslie Cannold in The Abortion Myth, “were clear that the fetus is alive, and abortion kills it. None of them, however, believed these facts proved that abortion was wrong.” Cannold criticizes pro-choice feminists for denying the fetus in an effort to bring the woman back into focus as the locus of pregnancy and the agent of decision-making. In her view, women are moral persons for whom the decision to abort derives less from a sense of rights or privacy and more from a broader evaluation of what the “right” thing to do is. This evaluation speaks to their attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood, and the real difference between pro- and anti-choice women is their level of trust that other women will “act morally.”"

Cannold builds on the work of such scholars as Kristin Luker, Faye Ginsburg, and Carol Gilligan, and takes on the controversial work of her own mentor, Peter Singer, on how ectogenesis might affect the abortion decision. Methodologically, The Abortion Myth suffers from some of the same flaws as Gilligan’s In a Different Voice – a small, self-selected sample – and Cannold’s normative stance is clear throughout. She is, after all, a graduate student and fellow in bioethics. The author is American but does all her work in Australia, and it is certainly fruitful to hear other voices and perspectives coming from a non-U.S. context. The Abortion Myth has been revised and updated for an American audience. Where the original Australian edition was produced as a trade book, this new version, published by a university press consortium, reflects Cannold’s desire to engage the enormous academic and political debate that surrounds abortion, especially in the United States. The result is an interesting and thought-provoking read for the sophisticated lay reader.


U.S. born Cannold studied bioethics in Australia; her analysis of how women define the moral questions raised by abortion was first published in that country. The U.S. edition adds an introduction (placing the book in the context of American scholarship and urging a significant role for women’s experience in ethical and psychological studies of abortion morality) and an appendix (on methodology) to a work that constructs a new ethics of abortion based on how women actually decide whether or not to become a mother. There’s nothing cavalier or casual about most women’s decision to have an abortion, nor are most women thinking about their “rights” when they make this decision. The women Cannold interviewed felt responsibility to and for the fetus they carried, but were convinced abortion was sometimes the most moral action they could take. Cannold argues that feminists must abandon the sterile rhetoric of rights, instead basing their defense of abortion rights on the nuanced, practical calculus women actually apply in making these moral decisions.

Mary Carroll, Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved

Cannold introduces a new argument in the abortion debate … [she] is adept at making a faceless issue real … Cannold digs deeper into the complex issue of what it means to choose to be a mother or not.

Publishers Weekly

If you have any opinions about abortion, here’s a book that will make you think harder about it.

Chicago Tribune

Cannold performs a valuable service in elucidating the moral reasoning of an articulate group of pro-choice and anti-choice women. Clashing views about maternal duty are centrally involved in the abortion debate…and the excessive and exclusive focus upon the moral status of the fetus has long prevented adequate attention to the other dimensions of the issue.

Mary Anne Warren, Bioethics 13(2) 1999: 168-170

Cannold illustrates some of the more tenacious and long-standing pro-life and pro-choice arguments concerning abortion, and persistently moves the debate beyond these two stances… The Abortion Myth is a thought-provoking consideration from women’s perspectives of a highly politicized debate that sadly, has divided women into two political stances. This book brings pro-choice and pro-life women together in meaningful discussions that emphasize the difficult moral decisions women make surrounding motherhood. From these discussions, Cannold challenges women to a paradigm shift: that of the right to choose motherhood as opposed to the right to reproductive control. Viewing abortion decisions from this perspective may allow women to collaborate and cooperate on vital reproductive issues that have bound us since the beginning of time as opposed to the divisiveness of the past thirty years…As the book’s length is not preclusive to a thorough read over a weekend, this book would be an appropriate addition to a women’s studies class where issues of reproduction are discussed in depth. Undergraduate and graduate students would benefit from a dialogue of the moral decision-making perspective Cannold captures so well.

Ruth E. Davis, NWSA Journal 14(3) 2002: 212-215

Publication history

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