“A” list

Mary Ann Sorrentino on the right to choose
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  March 14, 2007
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Long-time abortion rights advocate Mary Ann Sorrentino didn’t write The A Word to change anyone’s pro-life stance — though she does point out the about-face, in the opposite direction, that both Reagan and the elder Bush made on the issue when they rose to national prominence. Instead she creates an impassioned plea to that 66 percent (or more) of Americans who have repeatedly voted to retain a woman’s right to make decisions about what happens to her own body.
 
Sorrentino lines up her facts, relates a few “war stories,” ties together the current pieces of the debate — including stem cell research — and repeatedly reminds her readers of why we can’t return to “the bad old days” before 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision. Sorrentino was director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island from 1977-87, years when the abortion issue was front and center in the lives of Rhode Islanders as well as the nation. She not only kept the women’s clinic open and secure at a time when just 20 of the country’s 200 Planned Parenthood affiliates were willing to do so, but she was a tireless speaker, outspoken lobbyist, and lively debater on all aspects of women’s reproductive freedom and women’s rights.
 
Anyone who has lived in Rhode Island for the past 25 years will most likely re¬member that the Diocese of Providence excommunicated Sorrentino from the Catholic Church in 1985 (and threatened to prevent her daughter from being confirmed). Less well-known perhaps is that the Canon Law Society of America overturned that ruling in 1987. When Sorrentino left Planned Parenthood, she took to the airwaves as a talk show host on several local radio stations until 2000. She continues to write newspaper columns for the Standard Times in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and for the Providence Phoenix.
 
With so much personal history invested in this issue, Sorrentino as an author might have found it hard to pack everything she wanted to say into a 224-page paperback. Though the organization of the book leads to some repetition, the chapters are like the points in any debate, in which the strongest arguments are re-stated, re-shaped, and presented in different contexts.

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