Sunday, May 18, 2014


Responsibility, Complexity and Abortion provides a refreshingly honest, passionate, and scholarly analysis of the experiences around abortion—including pregnancy that is wanted, unwanted, coerced, uncoerced, and always uncertain. Houle observes that abortion affects everyone, and that only through thinking differently, individually, and culturally can we begin healing the pain around aborted pregnancy.

Houle offers a method for thinking differently about abortion, but also more importantly about ethics. This method is built into her writing, and so it is through reading that one is transitioned into this space where ethical thought is more possible. The book opens spaces that were always there, but perhaps out of sight; it suggests other ways of being in the world, without getting too attached to any one in particular, always being aware of the potential for other possibilities.  

Taking this ethical position is a lot like looking at the stars: if you don’t look directly at anything, but let your eyes wander and blur, sometimes you suddenly see something in 'empty' spaces. You can only see what is there, those distant stars, if you look just to the side of the space they are in. You realize that in all the ‘empty’ spaces you can see there must be many more stars, hidden or barely visible, and that there are even more spaces than you could possibly ever see or imagine. The fullest understanding is one which is always aware of its incompleteness.

This book discourages the standard method of moralizing that emphasizes taking up a ‘position’ on an issue. Instead, Responsibility, Complexity and Abortion acts as a tool which allows us to be ethical in a much more compassionate way. Houle’s strength as a feminist author is expressed through her sharing of real-life experiences, which attract readers to reconsider and re-imagine ethics as much more situated and vulnerable than they are perhaps comfortable with, but which is necessary for the change they are seeking. Both real-life accounts and theoretical analyses are important for Houle as she works through defining and creating a new ethicality.  

As a whole, this book is rich enough that it eludes idiom—it dances around playfully and assertively, always challenging the norm. Yet, it is bound together by a strong cohesive force. Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, totally feminist or afraid of feminists, this book will do something important to you.

-- Mercedes Pisano

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