Culture unbound : Journal of current cultural research
Year of publication
While hotly debated in political contexts, abortion has seldom figured in explicit terms in either literature or film in the United States. An exception is John Irving’s 1985 novel The Cider House Rules, which treats abortion insistently and explicitly. Although soon thirty years old, The Cider House Rules still functions as an important voice in the ongoing discussion about reproductive rights, responsibilities, and politics. Irving represents abortion as primarily a women’s health issue and a political issue, but also stresses the power and responsibility of men in abortion policy and debate. The novel rejects a “prolife” stance in favor of a women’s rights perspective, and clearly illustrates that abortion does not preclude or negate motherhood. This article discusses Irving’s novel in order to address abortion as a political issue, the gender politics of fictional representations of abortion, and the uses of such representations in critical practice. A brief introduction to the abortion issue in American cultural representation and in recent US history offers context to the abortion issue in Irving’s novel. The analysis focuses on abortion as it figures in the novel, and on how abortion figures in the criticism of the novel that explicitly focuses on this issue. The article argues that twentyfirst century criticism of Irving’s text, by feminist scholars as well as explicitly anti-feminist pro-life advocates, demonstrate the pervasive influence of antiabortion discourses illustrates, since these readings of Irving’s novel include, or reactively respond to, the fetal rights discourse and the “awfulization of abortion.” The article further proposes that the novel’s representations of reproductive rights issues – especially abortion – are still relevant today, and that critical readings of fictional and nonfictional representations of reproductive rights issues are central to feminist poli-tics.
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