Based on the struggle over a Fargo, North Dakota, abortion clinic, Contested Lives explores one of the central social conflicts of our time. Both wide-ranging and rich in detail, it speaks not simply to the abortion issue but also to the critical role of women's political activism.
A new introduction addresses the events of the last decade, which saw the emergence of Operation Rescue and a shift toward more violent, even deadly, forms of anti-abortion protest. Responses to this trend included government legislation, a decline in clinics and doctors offering abortion services, and also the formation of Common Ground, an alliance bringing together activists from both sides to address shared concerns. Ginsburg shows that what may have seemed an ephemeral artifact of "Midwestern feminism" of the 1980s actually foreshadowed unprecedented possibilities for reconciliation in one of the most entrenched conflicts of our times.
Contested sides of the enduring conflict over abortion and its importance in helping determine women's place in society are presented here by Ginsburg, associate professor of anthropology at New York University. In a scholarly, historically weighted study too specialized for general readers, the author relates the present debate to the changes wrought by economic and cultural developments that engendered modern feminism, along with the impact of legal, medical and political agendas on public attitudes towards abortion. Based on interviews with a pro-life and a pro-choice abortion activist, both of whom claim to represent women's real interests, Ginsburg contends that their viewpoints are largely derived from personal values, background and experiences of transition and difficulties in their own reproductive lives. Although she maintains that activists on both sides share many common concerns, she concludes that abortion remains a challenge to the concept of female gender identity linked to nurturance and domesticity.