Non-Fiction Books:

Rough on Women


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Rough on Women by Margaret Sparrow

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"Well written, thoroughly researched"
4 stars"
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I'm Pro-Life, that's not going to change, this book didn't change it. However, Dame Sparrow has done a lot of work into this book and as well as her other two. It's well written, thoroughly researched, and if you can get over the occassional snarky remark, it makes for some harrowing reading.

To my pro-life peeps, don't be put off by Dame Sparrow's activity in the abortion industry, or her pro-abortion stance. This provides insight into New Zealand's past, and it's pre-legal past is quite different to that of America and other Western nations. It's also probably the only literature out there that views this part of New Zealand history, I've yet to find any pro-life author tackling this subject.

Those who support abortion, unless you've got an interest in history and a strong stomach, I don't think reading this will do much for your argument or your opinion, but it's probably worth having in your collection.

All up, it does show the same desperate circumstances that drive women into the clutches of the local abortionists are the same then as they are now. Addressing the needs of those women is where those on both sides of the fence can find common ground.


Rough on Women is, in some respects, the prequel to Abortion Then and Now: New Zealand abortion stories from 1940 to 1980, in which women recorded their firsthand experiences of abortion. In contrast to the intimacy and frankness of that book, the women in Rough on Women are all long dead and little is known of their inner lives. Most of what we know about them comes from coroners' reports and newspaper accounts, and in many cases we know more about their abortionists than the women themselves. Of course, in the 19th century, those who survived abortions and did not suffer complications were unlikely to talk publicly about it, so we see here mostly the tragic cases, but the conditions facing desperate pregnant women back then are still brutal and shocking. Women obtained abortions by whatever means they could, despite the dangers of poisoning, haemorrhage, and infection. And abortionists did their work despite the threat of long prison sentences or even the death penalty. Rough on Women shows the lengths to which women will go to avoid bearing an unwanted child, and how far New Zealand has come in the battle for women to control their own fertility.

Author Biography

Dame Margaret Sparrow has had a long career in general and reproductive health. She is past President of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand and a Director of Istar Ltd, a not-for-profit company that imports the abortion pill mifepristone. She was awarded an MBE in 1987, the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal in 1993, and the DCNZM for services to medicine and the community in 2002, which in 2009 became a DNZM.
Release date NZ
April 7th, 2014
Country of Publication
New Zealand
Victoria University Press
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