Reproductive Rights: Who Decides?
by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein
Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner Publishing Group (March 1, 2016)
Audience: Ages 13 to 18
Nonfiction * Birth Control * Reproductive Rights
Amazon * WorldCat
About the book:
Examine reproductive rights through a historical lens, from early history's methods for family planning to the introduction of the Pill in the 1960s and the Roe v Wade decision of the 1970s, to contemporary legal and societal battlegrounds.
Thank you Vicki for stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy and answering a few questions about your new book REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: WHO DECIDES?
Reproductive Rights: Who Decides? has received very positive reviews. It's an important topic but can be one that is controversial with schools and parents (especially in more religious communities). Have you had any feedback or push-back about the book/topic?
Alyson, thanks so much for asking me such a critical question. I haven’t received any push-back yet about the book/topic, and I hope I don’t. I strongly believe that the history of reproductive rights is a subject that needs to be aired in classrooms and even among adults across the country. In my research I learned that history speaks volumes about these issues. For thousands of years—from ancient civilizations, through Colonial America, the development of the Pill, the legalization of contraception and abortion, and the Brave New World of reproductive technologies—men and women have always found ways to control reproduction. Controlling procreation is a human need that is not new. Limiting discussion about this controversial topic won’t stop the heated debates that young people hear over availability of, access to, and funding for contraception, sex education, and abortion. Teens should analyze and discuss these rights so they understand the issues at stake and form their own opinions. They are the next generation of parents, the ones who will be most affected by the laws enacted by our federal and state legislators and argued before our courts. And as new reproductive technologies expand the possibilities for controlling and initiating pregnancy, teens are the future adults who will define what it means to be a parent and under what circumstances. We owe it to them to help navigate through these complex and often heated issues.
In your research, what were the most surprising pieces of information that you discovered about reproductive rights or what you saw as most fascinating?
I was riveted by the intriguing ways people tried to control reproduction thousands of years ago, including magic rituals, herbal potions, and incantations from medicine men and women. Things like draping a magical amulet containing the bones of a black cat around your neck or jumping backward seven or eight times kept me laughing. But surprisingly, some of the birth control recipes may have worked to some extent, as they contained chemical properties found in many of the substances we use today. I was also surprised to discover that the old adage that history repeats itself is true, at least with respect to reproductive rights. Over the last several centuries, the US has gone from enacting laws that make it unlawful to use contraception or have an abortion, to legalizing both, and now, in the past several decades, restricting access.
Given how organizations like Planned Parenthood have been forefront in the news recently, your book is particularly timely. Any recommendations on how teachers or librarians can use REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS as a book club or other discussion group?
I agree that the book is particularly timely given that Planned Parenthood and now the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice are in the news. Teachers and educators can spur probing discussions by asking students questions about the book. For example, were the struggles to control when or if women and men wanted families similar to the struggles people encounter today? What events led to the eventual legalization of contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and abortion in Roe v. Wade (1973)? I think educators should encourage discussion of more controversial issues as well. For example, what role do political leaders and social norms play in determining how women and their families think and act on birth control issues? Is it easier or harder for poor women to access birth control? How do racism and sexism come into play? What differences do you see in the way politicians, judges and presidents think about birth control and reproductive rights? Educators and students can check the chapter-by-chapter discussion guide I posted on my website at Vickiwittenstein.com for more ideas.
Given the timeline it takes from researching a book, getting it picked up by a publisher for publication, and then the road to actual publication - Was this a topic that you had been wanting to write and finally had the opportunity to publish it or was it something that came about from another process? How long did it take you to research and write the book?
I had just finished writing FOR THE GOOD OF MANKIND: THE SHAMEFUL HISTORY OF HUMAN MEDICAL EXPERIMENTATION (Lerner 2014), when my editor suggested reproductive rights as a possible book topic. I practically jumped out of my chair from excitement. I did some preliminary research, wrote up a proposal and within a month my head was buried in books. From start to publication, the book took about two and a half years.
Why was I so excited? I think growing up during the 60s and 70s definitely sparked my interest in reproductive rights. When I was in high school and college, women were only just beginning to obtain advanced degrees and break into traditionally men’s professions, such as law and medicine. In college, tons of women used the Pill and two friends had abortions. Most women were relieved that Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade gave them options that were unheard of for their mothers. In the decades since Roe, the reproductive rights that empowered my generation have been whittled away, particularly for poor women. I think it’s unfortunate that the abortion issue has overshadowed what it means to be in favor of reproductive rights, when most reproductive health care involves cancer screenings, pregnancy prevention and care, and family planning—services completely unrelated to abortion. I have been honored to write this book and bring to the forefront ideas and issues that teens need to learn and think about.
Alyson, thanks so much for having me and for asking such thoughtful questions!
About Vicki Oransky Wittenstein:
Before becoming an author, VICKI ORANKSY WITTENSTEIN prosecuted criminal cases as an assistant district attorney with the Manhattan District Attorney's office. She earned an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Vicki has written a number of science articles and books for the juvenile market, including Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths, which won the 2011 Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics. Her book For the Good of Mankind? The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation was a Junior Literary Guild selection. Vicki and her husband live in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her website at vickiwittenstein.com.
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