Book review of Undue Burden by Shefali Luthra


For over a decade, health care journalist Shefali Luthra has been reporting on reproductive rights for Kaiser Health News and The 19th. In Undue Burden: Life and Death Decisions in Post-Roe America, she details the public and private chaos that commenced when the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in its 2022 decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Immediately after the Supreme Court issued Dobbs, the right to a safe and legal abortion was no longer protected by federal laws. Even before then, however, many states had been chipping away at reproductive rights, making access to abortion care nearly impossible and Roe almost meaningless. After Dobbs, state legislatures began passing increasingly draconian statutes illegalizing abortion. With clarity and passion, Luthra describes how Dobbs put American lives, health and autonomy at risk.

Luthra does an excellent job explaining the complex legal and political history of the anti-abortion movement, and her analysis of the impact of Dobbs is meticulously documented. But at the heart of Undue Burden are the stories of dozens of patients who sought a safe abortion in a post-Dobbs world. She focuses particularly on four people to illustrate the major themes of her book: Tiff, a high school student whose inability to access a timely abortion in Texas changes her life indelibly; Angela, a single mom who knows that another baby will make it impossible to provide her young son with a stable future; Darlene, whose pregnancy threatens her life, but whose Texas doctors can not give her the care she needs; and Jasper, a trans man from Florida forced to make a crucial decision before the state’s 15-week deadline kicks in.

Luthra also gives voice to the providers whose stories are rarely heard. We meet nurses and doctors hopping on and off planes to provide safe abortions to pregnant people desperate for their help, and doctors whose colleagues have been harassed and even murdered. Their dedication to their patients is both remarkable and inspiring.

In her empathetic book, Luthra capably zooms in on private stories and zooms out on the laws that have irrevocably changed lives, proving the feminist adage: The personal is political. Undue Burden is a rigorous and compelling condemnation of the unnecessary pain and sorrow Dobbs left in its wake.


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