What can abortion and divorce laws in other countries teach Americans about these thorny issues? In this incisive new book, noted legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon looks at the experiences of twenty Western nations, including the United States, and shows how they differ, subtly but profoundly, from one another. Her findings challenge many widely held American beliefs. She reveals, for example, that a compromise on the abortion question is not only possible but typical, even in societies that are deeply divided on the matter. Regarding divorce, the extensive reliance on judicial discretion in the United States is not the best way to achieve fairness in arranging child support, spousal maintenance, or division of property—to judge by the experience of other countries. Glendon's analysis, by searching out alternatives to current U.S. practice, identities new possibilities of reform in these areas. After the late 1960s abortion and divorce became more readily available throughout the West—and most readily in this country—but the approach of American law has been anomalous. Compared with other Western nations, the United States permits less regulation of abortion in the interest of the fetus, provides less public support for maternity and child-rearing, and does less to mitigate the economic hardships of divorce through public assistance or enforcement of private obligations of support.
Glendon looks at these and more profound differences in the light of a powerful new method of legal interpretation. She sees each country's laws as part of a symbol-creating system that yields a distinctive portrait of individuals, human life, and relations between men and women, parents and children, families and larger communities. American law, more than that of other countries, employs a rhetoric of rights, individual liberty, and tolerance for diversity that, unchecked, contributes to the fragmentation of community and its values. Contemporary U.S. family law embodies a narrative about divorce, abortion, and dependency that is probably not the story most Americans would want to tell about these sad and complex matters but that is recognizably related to many of their most cherished ideals.
[An] extraordinary study… The courageous goal of Mary Ann Glendon’s book is precisely to try to resurrect the idea of law as educational… [Ours is] a nation bitterly engaged in a fight over abortion and over a divorce law that imposes hardship on the very parties that looked to it as an engine of liberty. Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, a serious and compassionate book, shows us that another way is both possible and eminently sensible.
This book should change the way abortion and divorce are discussed in the United States.
Ms. Glendon is an intelligent and humane scholar, and her argument is mounted with admirable incisiveness.
Brilliant… [Glendon’s] application of Clifford Geertz’s notion that law is a ‘culture system,’ a ‘story’ by which society interprets itself is nothing short of dazzling. The ‘story’ Professor Glendon tells is a chilling one: society stumbles unintentionally towards atomization and nihilism.
This book is dynamite. It blows to bits the often-heard contention that compromise on abortion policy is impossible in a divided society… The argument of this book is graceful, elegant, and persuasive. One reason for its persuasiveness is the author’s sympathy for the commitments and concerns of both sides of the abortion controversy. She appeals to their deepest convictions…to show that somewhere between the extreme positions of abortion on demand and no abortion at all a sensible and sensitive policy favored by most Americans is to be found.
- 1988, Winner of the Scribes Book Award
- 224 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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