From Censors to Shouts: Ecologies of Abortion in American Fiction

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“From Censors to Shouts: Ecologies of Abortion in American Fiction” registers the urgent need to revisit the literary methods of abortion storytelling in multiethnic American women’s fiction with a close attention to one of its most significant tropes: the herbal abortifacients that signify as both code and medicine, recalling the Victorian “language of flowers” as well as essentialist metaphorical connections between femininity, reproduction, and the natural world. This project traces the literary history of herbal abortifacients from abortion’s censorship and criminalization in the nineteenth century to present-day movements to reclaim or “shout” one’s abortion. The fictional mentions of plants known to be abortifacients demonstrate how literature can communicate reproductive and plant knowledge. “From Censors to Shouts” also offers a window into how the practice of domestic herbalism (a gendered and often racialized practice) evolves over the course of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries by pairing a cultural historical analysis of the herbs themselves alongside considerations of how authors’ fictional deployments of these herbs work towards visions of reproductive and environmental justice. “From Censors to Shouts” considers fiction from multiethnic American women writers including Sarah Orne Jewett, Edith Summers Kelley, Josephine Herbst, Marge Piercy, Octavia Butler, Ntozake Shange, Jamaica Kincaid, Toni Morrison, Ana Castillo, and Kali Fajardo-Anstine. The fictional depiction of herbal abortifacients reveals our continued attention to plant knowledge and self-managed herbal abortion. Understanding how these plant names and knowledges have remained crucial rhetorical, cultural, and visual signifiers of abortion access is vital to understanding the reclamation of these knowledges as we re-commit to the fight for abortion rights and reproductive justice amidst a new legal landscape.