Around the time the Alabama Anti-Abortion bill passed, there was a conversation on twitter about romances that dealt with abortion in a positive/normalizing manner. You can find many of the tweets with #RomanceforRoe. It’s most often been treated as a moral issue instead of a healthcare issue, and that should go out the door with slut shaming. A few readers and authors chimed in with books that addressed abortion as a healthcare choice that didn’t ruin the main character’s life. Canadian author Jackie Lau pointed to two of her books which dealt with abortion, and luckily I was planning to read both next anyway.
This review is a little unfair to the books, because I’m really only focusing on one aspect, which could give the impression that they are Very Special Episodes. They are not. Each book has it’s own rich tapestry of issues and moments. Most importantly, though one character in each book deals with an abortion in their past, those abortions are not a hindrance to the Happily Ever After. I enjoy Lau’s writing very much. She brings depth and complexity to characters.
Not Another Family Wedding (Chin Williams Book 1)
When I was about 12, a good friend of my parents was going through a rough pregnancy. It was difficult physically and made worse by the discovery that her husband was expecting another child around the same time with another woman. I looked at her, stomach rippling with false contractions, her face hard with rage, and I knew I never wanted to be pregnant. A lot of people told me I’d grow out of it, that I would meet someone, that I would want kids of my own. I never did. I know that her experience wasn’t likely to be my experience, but still, that seed took root and I never wanted to be pregnant, or a mother.
Natalie Chin-Williams is 36, a climate scientist, and never wants children. She would like to be married, but that hasn’t worked out either. Now her baby sister is getting married and Natalie doesn’t want to go to the wedding without a date. She asks her longtime friend, Connor, to go as her date, but not her boyfriend. Connor agrees, and over the weekend their friendship becomes sexual and romantic. It was lovely to read about two friends seeing each other differently and falling in love.
In my early years of reading romance, one of the common tropes was the wife, girlfriend, or ex who had an abortion as a way to manipulate or torment the hero. The career driven woman who didn’t have time for motherhood was a foil to the sweet heroin who wanted to give the hero the family he deserved. Internalized misogyny is so fun. Natalie is that evil abortion haver turned on her head. She has been upfront about not wanting children, and she has good reasons – not that there need be any reason beyond how a person wants to live their life. Her last serious relationship ended when after a birth control failure, Natalie had an abortion. Her ex had thought she would change her mind when she got pregnant. When he realized she was serious, he reacts badly. His behavior is more traumatizing than the unplanned pregnancy and termination thereof.
The Ultimate Pi Day Party
Josh Yu’s father hasn’t talked to him in 17 years. It makes Josh feel badly because his father is generally considered a good person and is a beloved teacher. When he was in high school, Josh and his girlfriend had sex without having been given the basics of sex ed. His girlfriend got pregnant and had an abortion. Josh’s ex-girlfriend has gone on to become an advocate for sex ed and is soon to marry someone else. Nothing Josh has achieved as an adult has pleased his father. It’s clear that the trauma wasn’t the abortion, but the ignorance that led to the unplanned pregnancy and the moral judgement of Josh’s father. His judgement traumatizes Josh and effectively separates him from his family.
Sarah has recently opened a sweet and savory pie shop. She’s wanted to open her own place for years, and has worked hard to gain experience and save money to the exclusion of all else in her life. After discovering her restaurant, Josh hits on the idea of having Sarah cater a Pi Day party, which is a math joke his father would appreciate. As they spend time together, they fall in love. While the teen pregnancy and abortion don’t come between Josh and Sarah, his father’s inability to let go of his disapproval does come between them.
Jackie Lau consistently does fantastic work with the complexity of family. She illustrates with compassion the way familial expectations and disappointments can be stumbling blocks as we try to go out in the world and be our own adults. Even loving families have the power to hurt with thoughtless words.
In both books, characters make the reproductive health choices that make the most sense for them. It in not the medical procedures they have that impact them negatively, but the stigma and judgement around those procedures. I believe very strongly in the power of pop culture to be a positive force in the world. We do need #RomanceforRoe. We do need to normalize making appropriate healthcare choices for ourselves. There is no point in my life that it would have been appropriate for me to be pregnant. I have never had to address a pregnancy, but I have sat with friends who have made the choice to terminate pregnancies for a number of reasons, I have talked with friends as they celebrated births, mourned lost pregnancies, and struggled with infertility. Every person I know who has contemplated abortion made the right choice for them at that moment in their life. No laws should strip a person of their right to appropriate healthcare, or hinder their access.