Romance novelists pledge to confront abortion ‘taboo’ after Alabama banMay 17, 2019
Dip into the fast-moving world of romantic fiction and it quickly becomes clear that very few of the fictional couples enjoying mind-blowing sex have any idea how to use a condom. The number of novels that use an unplanned pregnancy as a major plot point is almost as staggering as the sex they contain.
Take The Greek’s Pregnant Cinderella, in which a hotel maid is “utterly pleasured” by a Greek tycoon but “discovers her midnight mischief had nine-month consequences!” Or Her Forgotten Lover’s Heir, where “brooding Pietro Agosti is stunned when his sizzling fling with vibrant teacher Molly Armstrong results in her pregnancy”. Was it really that much of a surprise?
The unexpected pregnancy that forces a couple into a marriage of convenience – only for them to soon fall in love – is a common trope in romantic fiction. But in the days after Alabama’s state senate passed a near-total ban on abortion, writers are asking themselves why none of these heroines ever considers termination. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an organisation promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, it’s a common experience for women in the US, with nearly one in four having had an abortion by the age of 45.
“We need to start putting abortion in our books,” the novelist Liz Lincoln tweeted on Wednesday. “As an alternative to marrying virtual strangers after a surprise pregnancy. As a part of character backstory. As a thing lots of people experience.”
The taboo surrounding the subject has helped the anti-abortion movement to “systematically chip away at abortion rights”, Lincoln says. “It needs to be as regular in books as characters with dead parents or green eyes. As a normal part of life, not as a moral lesson where women are then punished for their choice.”
Lincoln’s tweet has been liked more than 2,500 times, and her fellow writers were quick to chime in. Sarah MacLean asked her tens of thousands of followers for examples of romances that featured abortion, saying that the only ones she could think of “are ‘my first awful girlfriend/wife had an abortion and it devastated me’”. She got just 15 suggestions.
“There just aren’t that many,” says MacLean. “You don’t talk about politics [in romance novels] because half the readership will disagree with you, and like it or not – and I don’t like it – abortion is political. But this week seems like a moment in the genre. An abortion is often held up in books as something to be ashamed of. Writers are now looking at how we evolve beyond that.”
One romance writer who has already moved on is Melonie Johnson. Her series Sometimes in Love features a heroine who had a termination when she was 18. Johnson admits that she was “worried about backlash”, and found herself wondering if she could avoid making abortion an “active choice” for her heroine.
“Romance novels avoid addressing it via a convenient accident or medical condition that takes the choice away from the heroine, removes her responsibility,” Johnson explains. “When I encountered this kind of evasion in the books I read, I was frustrated, infuriated, and I realised I couldn’t do that to my heroine.”
Instead, the character makes the choice because it is “the right one for her at that moment in her life. Yes, she has some emotional issues to work out, but she doesn’t beat herself up about it. She is not punished or cursed or doomed. She gets her happy ending.”
Following the Alabama ruling, MacLean expects more writers to follow in Johnson’s footsteps. “The genre has always evolved to reflect the politics of the day,” she says. “Right now in the US, women’s bodies are under attack and I would be shocked if we did not see a rise in references to abortion in romance. As of yesterday a number of authors were saying, ‘I’m putting it in my next book.’ Codifying abortion rights on the page: that’s important – it’s what romance is for.”
Anna Boatman, an editor at romance publisher Piatkus, agrees. “Romance has historically been a place where women’s concerns, rebellions and restrictions have been explored,” she says. “It’s clearly a fight that we haven’t yet won.”
Novelist Jackie Barbosa is already on the case, calling for submissions to a Romance for Roe anthology, in which stories “must include a protagonist who has explicitly had an abortion or chooses to have one in the story and does not regret that decision”. Profits will go to an abortion rights charity.
And Christina Lauren is one of the writers planning to include the topic in future novels. “Women are still made to feel like they have to hide these non-male things that our bodies do – bleed, cycle, conceive, enter menopause,” she says. “The romance community is in a position to reframe how society views the female body, and to confront the idea that the female body has to serve a purpose beyond happily existing. The choice to not carry a child is something we need to actively normalise, and to incorporate that choice into the female journey in romance.”
Source of this (above) article: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/17/romance-novelists-abortion-alabama