The Story of Abortion in America: A Street-Level History, 1652–2022 – Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas

The Story of Abortion in America: A Street-Level History, 1652–2022 by Marvin Olasky, Leah Savas
Also by this author: Lament for a Father: The Journey to Understanding and Forgiveness, Pivot Points: Adventures on the Road to Christian Contentment
Published by Crossway on January 3, 2023
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Social Justice

Tracing the History of Abortion in America by Looking beyond the Laws to the Dramatic Stories and Colorful Personalities of the People They Touched

Fifty years ago, the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion-on-demand sparked nationwide tensions that continue to this day. In the decades since that ruling, abortion opponents and proponents have descended on the Capitol each year for marches and protests. But this story didn’t begin with the Supreme Court in the 1970s; arguments about abortion have been a part of American history since the 17th century. So how did we get here?

The Story of Abortion in America traces the long cultural history of this pressing issue from 1652 to today, focusing on the street-level activities of those drawn into the battles willingly or unwillingly. Authors Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas show complex lives on both sides: Some sacrificed much to help the poor and others sacrificed the helpless to empower themselves. The Story of Abortion in America argues that whatever happens legally won’t end the debate, but it will affect lives.

- A Fair Survey of the History of the Debate: Opening with a foreword by renowned social conservative thinker Robert P. George, this book explores historic cases and key cultural moments from 1652 to 2022

- Examines 5 Selling Points Used by Each Side in Different Eras: Anatomy, Bible, Community, Danger, and Enforcement

- Chronicles the History of Abortion through Personal Narratives: Includes the memorable stories of Isaac Hathaway, Susan Warren, Elizabeth Lumbrozo, John McDowell, Hugh Hodge, Madame Restell, Augustus St. Clair, Inez Burns, Robert Dickinson, Sherri Finkbine, Henry Hyde, John Piper, Lila Rose, Terrisa Bukovinac, Mark Lee Dickson, and many others

- Written for a Diverse Audience: While particularly useful for Christians who want to understand the history of abortion and its impact on American politics and culture, the book speaks to anyone who cares about abortion

The Story of Abortion in America explores the presence of abortion throughout American history in great and nuanced detail, bringing hidden histories to light, introducing colorful characters, and showing how people’s attitudes and beliefs about abortion changed over time, shifting in different directions based on a variety of different influences and social forces. The authors write from a distinctly pro-life view, but because they are not preachy and do not demonize their opponents, readers who disagree with their beliefs may also appreciate the social history that this book offers. Although this book conveys arguments for protecting life in the womb, it is first and foremost a historical study.

This book came out a year ago, and my review is horribly overdue. The main reason why I didn’t finish and review this book sooner is because 2023 was an extremely difficult year for me, and I rarely felt like I had the mental space to read more of this lengthy book on a heavy topic. However, I also struggled with the number of graphic and gruesome details that this book contains. Some chapters read like true crime, especially since parts of the book involve homicide cases where men murdered their pregnant girlfriends, as well as scenarios where abortionists destroyed and discarded women’s bodies after botched abortions. The authors do not sensationalize anything, but they report heinous details that squeamish people will have a hard time reading about.

Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas share lots of important information that I had never heard before, and even though I am very knowledgeable about American history, there was so much here that filled in the blanks for me, with lots of sensitive details and aspects of women’s history that don’t make it into textbooks or typical historical publications. The authors’ research is impressive, and they introduce lots of broad historical developments, illustrative stories, and histories of specific abortionists and anti-abortion advocates. One of this book’s strengths is how it focuses on ordinary people and everyday life, with only some chapters getting into the weeds of legal and political topics.

Historical chapters show that even when abortion was illegal and considered scandalous, laws against it were rarely enforced, often due to abortionists paying off law enforcement and government officials. The chapters about the legalization of abortion and the aftermath of Roe v. Wade cover a lot of different themes, but these chapters often feel spotty. Since there is so much more available information to cover after that point, the book can only summarize some things, but I thought that these chapters were too anecdotal and skipped over a number of important developments and significant people. Also, the chapters about current events are journalistic deep-dives into specific people and topics, without enough breadth and broader perspective to fit with the historical elements.

The Story of Abortion in America: A Street-Level History, 1652–2022 is a powerful, thought-provoking book, and I would recommend it to other people who care about the subject. As I mentioned, there are elements that are graphic and difficult to read, but this book shares hidden histories in a unique and eye-opening way. Despite the weaknesses in its coverage of recent events, this book stands out for its nuanced, thoughtful portrayal of little-known dynamics and hidden realities from throughout American history.