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Abortion in Teen and Young Adult Literature

As the election approaches, the topic of abortion and reproductive rights has been getting a lot of attention in the news. And with the sad passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg this past weekend, a newly open Supreme Court seat is really pushing this conversation to the forefront of 2020 election issues. Below you will find a gallery of YA/Teen titles that discuss the topic of abortion.

I haven’t read all of these, but I have read a good number of them.

Girl on the Verge is a great title that focuses on three teen girls who take a road trip together as they support one of the girls who are trying to obtain an abortion. This title takes place in Texas and it highlights a lot of hurdles, including a judge that makes decisions based on their own religion and how a friend who is Christian and against abortion personally decides to support her friend making a decision she doesn’t necessarily agree with.

The Truth About Alice is by a Texas author and pulls back the current on the truth about abortion protestors: many of them get abortions of their own even while they are protesting the very medical service that they are using. It’s a profound novel about shut shaming and rumors.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is one of my favorite feminist books for a wide variety of reasons. One, it highlights the truly competitive nature of high school cheerleading. Two, it highlights female friendship and how you can stand by a friend who was raped. And three, it highlights a teen girl being allowed to make decisions about her body after being raped.

The Whitsun Daughters was just released and Amanda MacGregor reviews it here. She says it is a “gorgeously layered look at love, loss, and the complex lives of girls. Not to be missed.”

I actually just listened to All Eyes on Her last week and was surprised by the role that abortion played in this story. It’s a psychological thriller in which a teen girl is accused of killing her boyfriend by pushing him off of a cliff. At one point during the trial a picture which is presumed to be of her entering an abortion clinic appears on social media, which is used to make her look even more guilty. She’s an unreliable narrator so you don’t know if she’s telling the truth about the events of the story or the abortion throughout a large portion of the story. Tucked away in this psychological thriller is a lot of feminist discussion about the difference in the ways that teen boys and girls are treated in social media, in the justice system, and more. It was a really good book. Recommended for fans of Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson, which tackles a lot of the same themes and is one of the best psychological thrillers with feminist discussions out there.

Whatever one’s personal opinion on this topic, it’s important that we provide books and resources on it for our patrons, yes even teen ones. These novels can help our teens read about and wrestle with this topic that they are hearing about in the news. And let’s not forget, many of our teens have or will have abortions.

If you have other titles to add to this list, please share a comment with us.

Sunday Reflections: Raising Daughters & the Fight for Full Bodily Autonomy

Trigger Warning: Pregnancy Loss and Abortion are Discussed in this Post


I knew the day that I began teaching my 3-year-old daughter how to dial 911 that I would have an abortion.

I had just gotten out of the emergency room, again. After spending another night receiving fluids, again.

My blood pressure was abysmally low, my resting heart rate too fast.

I would later learn that I was in a state of what they call metabolic acidosis. I was, quite literally, dying.

So I barricaded the stairs. I made sure to never turn on the stove or oven. I double and triple checked that I had locked all the doors. And I laid on the couch and prayed that if I was going to die – and I was – that it happened when my husband was home so that my daughter would be safe.

Coming home from the hospital that day, I asked my husband, “what if I have to terminate this pregnancy?” He sighed the biggest sigh of relief, “I didn’t know how to bring it up,” he mentioned.

Here we were, teenaged sweethearts who had been baptized together in the church. Had attended a Christian college together. Served in youth ministry together. We were in our early 30s, already parents to a very much loved child, and we were discussing terminating a pregnancy.

The next day was another day, and another day to the emergency room. I was subjected to a 45 minute ultrasound because as the tech said, they couldn’t find “something”. They didn’t come out and say it, but it was the heartbeat. They couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat.

So the next day we went and saw a different ob/gyn. This one we knew would terminate the pregnancy if we needed them to. And again, there was no heartbeat. My pregnancy should have measured 9 ½ weeks and there should have been a heartbeat, but it measured at 6 ½ weeks and he said a heartbeat would be iffy at that time. We explained to him that no, 3 weeks – and 2 hospital stays earlier – we had in fact measured 6 ½ weeks and heart a slow and unhealthy but definitely present heartbeat.

It was then that we were presented with 2 options: We could wait 24 hours and come back the next day to terminate what appeared to be a failing pregnancy–if I survived the next 24 hours and didn’t need to go back to the ER, that is. Or we could wait another week or two, have a follow up ultrasound and if there was still no heartbeat, it would be declared a miscarriage. The truth was, as he pointed out, that I would not survive another week or two. I need an abortion and I needed it quickly.

Twenty-four hours later we returned to terminate the pregnancy. We walked among 3 protestors who held signs telling us we were going to hell and that we should ask to hear our baby’s heartbeat. What those protestors didn’t know is that we had heard our baby’s heartbeat, and then we didn’t. We grieved our loss, but we also knew that factually we were now trying to save the only life we could really save at this point – mine.

In the days following my abortion that wasn’t technically an abortion though my medical records will always show that it was, I had one of my most spiritual moments ever. This is the moment that I hang on to whenever I begin to doubt or question my faith. I laid on my bedroom floor and cried. Then I had what I can only call a vision of the Lord, He came to me and in it, I saw Jesus kneeling beside me with his hands cupped under my face. He held them there gently and caught my failing tears as I wept, and I felt the presence of the Lord in a way that never have before or since.

Because abortion is legal in the United States, I am alive and am now the mother to two daughters. My second daughter is here only because I was kept alive through IVs and aggressive treatment by a high risk doctor. My husband got up in the middle of the night to change out fluids, inserting a needle full of medicine into each bag to help keep me alive. And even in the course of that pregnancy, the frequency and ferocity of my vomiting was so fierce that the placenta began to separate from my uterine wall and this child almost did not make it as well.

The pregnancy disease that I have is known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Recent research indicates that it is genetic. So I look at my two daughters and know, if they get pregnant there is a chance that these same things will happen to them. Pregnancy may be a death sentence for them.


I am alive today, my second daughter is alive today, my first daughter has a mother today, because I was able to make the personal medical decisions I needed to make quickly. I continue to be alive today because I can take steps necessary to never get pregnant again. I have the health insurance I need to cover the care I need to keep myself from having any more children because I would not survive another pregnancy. There are many other HG sufferers like me out there. There are many other pregnancy complications besides HG. And soon, there may be many people who are uninsured and unable to access the health care they need or make the medical decisions they need to make.

Even if they remain celibate until marriage and jump through every hoop that those with conservative religious beliefs believe that they must, my daughters will still need affordable access to medical care and contraception to help plan and yes, prevent, pregnancy in order to keep themselves alive. And should the extreme scenario happen to them, they may need to be able to make the quick and timely decision to terminate a medically complicated pregnancy in order to survive. I want all those medical options to be available to them because I love them.

This is the story of how I became a pro-choice Christian. Yes, it took a personal experience to make me understand how dangerous and complicated and how very not black and white pregnancy can be. I was naïve and judgmental and full of the self-satisfied assurance that the self-righteous often have that they are always right and they know all the answers. I knew all the answers, too. Until I didn’t.

Further research has led me to understand that outlawing abortion doesn’t stop abortion, it just makes abortion more deadly. However, quality sex education, access to affordable contraception, access to health care and roads out of poverty significantly reduce the reasons that people seek out abortion. They also help provide a better quality of life for those babies that are being brought into this world. If we want to really tackle the issue of abortion, these are the areas that we need to invest in.

This is my family. They are a blessing. I try hard every day to guard these girls, my heart, from the toxic messaging of our culture.

Every day I look at my daughters and pray. I pray that they will continue to have the right to make the choices they need to make about their bodies and for their health. It is not guaranteed that they will have Hyperemesis Gravidarum, but it is a very real possibility because they are my daughters. I want them to be able to make the decisions they need to with their doctors make the right choices for their health.

I wrote this essay shortly after the election in 2016. My husband and I fought long and hard through three very difficult pregnancies to bring our two much loved children into this world. It nearly bankrupted us because it was hard for us to get good answers and good medical care. It nearly killed me, twice. And we made decisions that we never contemplated having to make when we began our life together as a married couple trying to start a family.

13 years ago today, in the year 2006, I had an abortion. It saved my life.

My first two pregnancies I had one doctor who apparently knew I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum; It is written in my medical records, though he never discussed it with either my husband or I. In my second pregnancy, the last one in which we would use him as our doctor, I was, according to the various ER records we gathered, quite literally dying. At one point I was hospitalized for a short stay and my resting heart rate was 160 and my blood pressure was 60 something over 37. After being admitted from the ER and placed into the maternity ward for a few nights, at no time did any of the doctors on that floor perform an ultrasound. If they had, we would have learned a full two weeks earlier than our termination that the baby had already passed away. Instead, I suffered another two weeks, inching every moment even closer to death.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum is extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It is not morning sickness. In each of my pregnancies I vomited 24 hours a day for the entire pregnancy. Some days I vomited more than 100 times. I often slept on the bathroom floor because there was no point in trying to go to bed. I had to go to the ER frequently because I suffered from dehydration and the various things that happen when your body has no food or fluids. In my second pregnancy, I lost 40 pounds in about a week and my body began to break down in a process that my medical records calls metabolic acidosis.


In my third and final pregnancy, I was under the care of a new high risk doctor. The moment I tested positive, I was put on home healthcare. I was kept hydrated and alive with home IV therapy. The Mr. set his alarm clock throughout the night and woke up around the clock to put new IV fluid bags in my IV line. I took a cocktail of three drugs that they give cancer patients taking chemotherapy to try and stave off the vomiting. The frequency and fierceness of my vomiting was so severe that the placenta began at one point to separate from my uterine wall. I was put on bed rest and told to stop throwing up.

For more information about Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) please visit www.helpher.org

On February 3, 2006, I walked into the office of an ob/gyn who performed abortions and terminated my second pregnancy. Although we had every reason to believe that our baby was already dead inside me, the laws of the land required us to seek out an abortion because I could not wait the necessary time frame to confirm this fact; I would not survive.

I am grateful that I got to make that choice for myself and that I have been here to see my teenage daughter grow into the amazing young woman that she is today. I am grateful as well that I got to give birth to my second daughter and see her becoming the amazing young woman that she is today. I am only here, my second child is only here, because I was legally able to make the medical decisions I needed to make for myself. Pregnancy still kills women in multiple ways. In fact, the United States has a very high maternal mortality rate for an industrialized nation.

There are known and proven ways to decrease abortion rates. These ways include providing everyone access to comprehensive sex education, providing access to affordable birth control, providing affordable access to prenatal and general health care, raising women and children out of poverty, supporting education, providing access to affordable daycare, creating a culture that provides living wages and work/life balance. We can decrease abortion rates while still allowing women full body autonomy and the right to make their own medical decisions.


Hyperemesis Gravidarum research indicates that HG is genetic. I have two daughters. Their ability to make the health care decisions that are right for them is imperative to me. Their lives may literally depend on it.

Friday Finds – July 26, 2013

This week at TLT:

This week’s Sunday Reflections discusses the presence of violence in YA and why it’s important.

We have book reviews of:

Heather and Karen took a group of teens to the Simon Teen Tastemakers Event at ALA and offer ideas for reproducing the event for a teen program at your library.
Karen asked us to talk about the casual perpetuation of street harassment culture.
Karen discusses how YA literature addresses the issue of abortion. And Christie adds some important thoughts on the issue. We also have a list of 5 YA titles that address the topic to some degree, with additional suggestions in the comments.
Robin posted about her experience working with youth who live in poverty. Karen added a list of fantastic titles that depict teens living in poverty.

Commiserate with Heather in the comments section of her post on Program Fails.

Previously on TLT:
We reviewed Timepiece by Myra McEntire and Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry.
Karen wrote about one of the daily realities for teens who live in poverty – going to bed hungry.
Around the web:
There is an important article by Jen Schradie over at The Society Pages on The 7 Myths of the Digital Divide.

You can read an excerpt of The Fall of Five, the next in the I Am Four series by Pittacus Lore at EW. 

There is also a cover reveal and excerpt of Enders, the sequel to Starters by Lissa Price over at EW.

YPULSE has an interesting look at why the show Catfish on MTV matters

What are you guys talking about this week?  Share with us in the comments.

VOYA Magazine released their Teen Pop-Culture Quiz #40.  How well do you know teen pop culture?  Take the quiz.

Take 5: Reproductive Rights in YA Lit

Today Christie and I are talking about Reproductive Rights and Abortion in YA literature.  Here is a list of 5 books where teens acknowledge that abortion exists in their world.  Some of them consider it and decide it is not the right option for them, and others do make the choice to terminate their pregnancy.  It is important that a wide variety of discussions and choices and reactions be represented because it reflects the real world, the world teens are living in and allows them to make more informed opinions and choices because it helps them develop a more complete picture.

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

“You can’t just plan a moment when things get back on track, just as you can’t plan the moment you lose your way in the first place.” 

Halley has always followed in the wake of her best friend, Scarlett. But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she’s carrying his baby, she’s devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley. Their friendship may bend under the weight, but it’ll never break–because a true friendship is a promise you keep forever. (Goodreads)

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

“I stretch my fingers across my belly and glide my hand back and forth, waving softly. Sometimes I think I feel a hand reaching out for mine. Or it could be a foot, kicking my hand away. I wish I could tell the difference.” 

Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For a while anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their “one-time thing” is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind. (Goodreads)

Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti

 “A lot of life is just surviving what happens.” 

Scarlett Hughes is overly involved in the lives of everyone around her, and exceptionally interested in the habits of her neighbors. But Scarlett is thrust solidly into her own life when her sister, Juliet, returns home from school—pregnant and surprisingly married to a sweet, handsome man whom she seems to have no interest in, but who is hopelessly in love with her. Forced to take a look inward for the first time, Scarlett discovers the necessity of dreams, as well as the necessity of facing reality and speaking the truth. (Goodreads)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

“In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn’t a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is.”

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive. (Goodreads)

Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

 “Words aren’t magic,” Rawe said, “but talking, opening up can be.”

There’s the reason I was sent to Turning Pines in the first place: I got arrested. On prom night. With my two best friends, who I haven’t talked to since and probably never will again. And then there’s the real reason I was sent here. The thing I can’t talk about with the guy I can’t even think about. (Goodreads)

Do you know of other titles where the issues are discussed? Share with us in the comments.

Reproductive Rights in YA Lit: Christie’s Take

If you follow me on Twitter, you definitely know where I stand on this issue, and personally I am scared for where this country is headed. I realize that the issue is completely tied up to everyone’s personal beliefs, and I have close friends who fall on both sides of the lines- we just agree to disagree on this subject.

However, I know a lot of people across the country who feel the same way, who were activists before and after Roe vs Wade became law, and fear we’re headed down the same road as before abortion became legal, and access to women’s clinics (whether they perform abortions or not) were available to all. I do feel that the way “pro-life” is marketed is wrong- I feel that my viewpoints should be considered pro-life even though I consider abortion an option- just as I consider birth control an option, and federal and state care after birth options.

I remember the scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High that Karen writes about, but that wasn’t the first movie I saw that deal with abortion. The first one I saw was the horrible botched abortion in Dirty Dancing, when abortion was illegal. I didn’t understand the whole situation, and I didn’t ask my parents about it (I didn’t see it in theaters, I saw it at a friend’s house a few years later)- instead, I went and researched it at the bigger city library nearby (no way could I go to the library in my small town- would everyone have gossip then, even if they would have had information about the subject). When I understood what was going on, and why it was going on, I thanked the powers that be (fill in whatever God/Goddess/Deity you like) that we (women) didn’t have to go through that now. That was when I decided I was going to be a feminist and an activist- I finally had a title to how I felt. However, I now have the scary feeling we’re headed backwards to that time.

Like Karen, I don’t know of any 11-15 year old ready to be a parent (boy or girl or inbetween), and like Karen, I have worked with teens in that age range who have had to deal with that issue.

In previous work experiences it was usually the girl alone who was having to deal with her parents and the decision as the boy was long gone or denying responsibility (and leading a campaign of slut shaming along with his *new* girlfriend), in my current one it has been more of a mix which I think is due to the culture more than anything else. However, they are still struggling with options, and to have one option taken away means that they are left with two: adoption (which while may be the best case has stigma attached in a lot of cultures) and keeping the baby (which may not be the best case for the child or parent/parents). This is why we have trends in libraries of grandparents as parents collections, and grandparents as parents programming- because adoption was not a viable option in anyone’s mind (for whatever reason) and the baby ended up with grandparents.

16 and Pregnant : MTV

We, as teen service specialists (which I use to encompass all of us who work with teens) are always advocating for books that reflect teen life- because teens turn to YA fiction to find themselves, and to help know that they are not alone. Abortion in YA fiction is a subject that is extremely hard to find, and needs to be written about more, in a compassionate way- not just in a sentence or two that it was a consideration before moving on to other options. When we have television shows that glorify and make stars of teen moms acting badly and abusing their kids (yes, I’m looking at you, MTV), and media that can’t honestly deal with the issue except on the margins we need a counterbalance somewhere.

Abortion in YA Lit, Karen’s Take

Young Adult literature tackles a wide variety of dark, heavy and yet all too real and controversial topics.  Drug use, rape, incest, cutting . . . You can find a variety of books that deal with these topics.  But there is one topic that you don’t see mentioned very often in YA lit: Reproductive Rights.  Even more specifically: Abortion.

This piece is not about abortion, but it is about abortion in YA lit.  I will not reveal where I stand on the issue, because my opinion doesn’t matter.  My job is to introduce teens to a wide variety of stories and let them decide for themselves.  And I recognize that it is a very controversial topic tied up in people’s personal religious beliefs, their knowledge of science, their views on women and personhood and so much more.  But there is no denying that it is a very relevant topic that today’s teen can not escape.  The news about abortion and the debate surrounding the issue is everywhere.  People stand outside clinics and statehouses with signs.  And because I believe it is an important issue in our current political climate, one that is not likely to go away, I feel that we owe it to our teens to have current and realistic information available to them so that they too can be an informed part of the discussion.  For many teens, what we decide today will have tremendous impact on their life and choices.  Not always in the distant future, but soon.

Because of the pregnancy illness that I suffered from, I know a handful of women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies so that they could live another day and raise the children they had already given birth to.  And I have sat with a teen patron in the days after she decided to terminate her pregnancy at 20 weeks.  And I have read the news with horror of the little 11 year old girl in Chile who is waiting to give birth to a child that was fathered by her own father who raped her.  Many have said to the news that this 11 year old is ready and prepared to become a mother; but not just a mother, a mother to a child born to her from a father that has raped her.  I look over to my 11 year old daughter as I think about this and my heart aches for her.  I have spent 20 years working with 11 year olds and I can assure you that not a single one of them is prepared to become a mother.

I sometimes read books about teenage pregnancy and wonder where the discussion of abortion is.  Not even a teen deciding to have an abortion, but a teen who is pregnant taking a moment to even consider it, for a moment, as an option.  As a teen, my first knowledge of abortion came not from a book, but from the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  I remember clearly that character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh going in to a clinic and ending her pregnancy alone, without her parents knowledge, without the boy who impregnated her.  It was her older brother who supported her through the experience.  This is an issue for teens, it always has been, and it may be an issue that they will deal with only with one another.  I was aware of abortion, but it had always been one of those taboo subjects that no one ever talked about except when we were talking politics.

So here is something I didn’t tell you when I reviewed Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein because it hadn’t been released yet and it was a spoiler: Cassie has had an abortion.  As she lay at camp writing diary entries to herself she sometimes punches herself in the stomach.  This is because she has had an abortion and she is wrestling with how she feels about this fact afterwards.  It is a bold decision, telling the story of a girl who has made a choice that is so very controversial in our country.  And yet, it is a story that needs to be told because our teens sometimes make this choice and those teens deserve to have their stories told just as much as we advocate for diversity in young adult literature.  Diversity can mean diversity in choices.  As a reader, we don’t even have to agree with the choice.  That is not why we read.  No, we read to better understand the many different lives that occur in and around us in the vast, wide world we live in.

Cassie’s reaction to her abortion is interesting and complex.  She obviously feels tremendous confusion and sometimes guilt over the choices she has made.  And as a woman, I can’t help but think: of course she does.  She lives in a world that tells her everyday that people who choose abortions are murderers.  Even if she didn’t think this were true, it makes sense on some level that a teen who is still trying to figure out who they are and what they believe would have periods of times where she questioned the very real decisions that she made.  Abortion is not a black and white issue in the world we live, so it makes sense that a contingent of our teens wouldn’t see it as a black and white issue either.  The complexity of emotions that she has in response to her abortion mirrors the complexity of emotions we feel in the general public regarding the topic.

But Cassie’s experience with abortion is just that – one experience of abortion.  The ALAN Review wrote a thoughtful look at abortion in YA literature back in 1995, but at a time when our culture is grappling with this issue loudly and often, it seems that our YA lit is failing to reflect the current zeitgeist.  And this literature needs to reflect the variety of true experiences that teens have had with abortion.  Some, like the 14-year-old I used to work with, will sigh a breath of relief.  Others, like Cassie, will wreslte with confusion and guilt.  The literature we read doesn’t have to mirror our personal beliefs, it is supposed to open us up to other lives and other stories so that we can walk a moment in another’s pair of shoes and learn about lives and viewpoints that may differ from ours.

Additional Resources:
Adolescent Fiction on Abortion
The Future of Reproductive Rights as Seen in 3 YA Novels
Unwinding the Abortion Debate in Young Adult Literature
Adolescent Fiction on Abortion
Library Thing list of books tagged Abortion
What Does October 15th Mean for Teens?