Cover image for Abortion and divorce in Western law
Abortion and divorce in Western law
Glendon, Mary Ann, 1938-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1987.
Physical Description:
197 pages ; 25 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF5181 .G58 1987 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
KF5181 .G58 1987 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

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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.

Author Notes

Mary Ann Glendon was born on October 7, 1938, in Pittsfield, Mass. and graduated from the University of Chicago with both J.D. and Master of Comparative Law degrees. She has worked as a criminal defender, a civil rights attorney, and is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University.

Glendon writes frequently on scholarly matters of the law. In Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, she presents examples of the talk behind laws and rights of citizens, and the actual actions. Hot topics such as flag burning, Indian lands, homosexual acts, and social welfare are covered in-depth in this book, and the difference of opinions versus deeds concerning these topics are discussed as representing a distortion of our true culture and values.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Using comparative legal analysis, Glendon (Harvard Law School) investigates the ``puzzle'' of American abortion and divorce law. She rejects the positivist notion of law in favor of Clifford Geertz's approach in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (CH, Dec '83), which states that law is an educational device that tells a ``story.'' When compared with other Western nations, this story reveals that the US is in the extreme position of offering the least protection to fetal life and to those facing the economic casualties of divorce. Yet the stories of other nations instruct us that there are alternatives. Glendon compellingly argues that the American legal response to abortion is unusual and, contrary to popular belief, that there is room for compromise. In the concluding section, she studies the origins of American law to explain why it is different. Here she struggles, as do all comparative analysts, to place the American system back into its social and political context. Well documented with appendixes and notes. Highly recommended for upper-division and graduate collections.-S. Behuniak-Long, Wilkes College