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The St. Louis author who predicted the end of abortion in 1997

The book cover of the novel "The Misconceiver" shows a closeup of a woman's face, the book title, and a bolt of lightning.
Attention for St. Louis-born author Lucy Ferriss' 1997 novel "The Misconceiver" has grown since the overturning of abortion rights.

In the world of the novel "The Misconceiver,” the United States has overturned Roe v. Wade, people are arrested for distributing contraceptives and a group of resistors — known as misconceivers — have risen up to aid women seeking abortions.

In 1997, when the novel was first published, the genre was speculative fiction. While "The Misconceiver” was well-received at the time, the novel quickly went out of print — until, 25 years later, it was rediscovered in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning nationwide abortion rights in 2022.

"The Misconceiver" author Lucy Ferriss.
Danny Wicentowski
"The Misconceiver" author Lucy Ferriss.

“The thing I really wanted to drive home was how personal this is,” said author Lucy Ferriss. A St. Louis native who now lives in Connecticut, Ferriss said she began writing the book as a way of playing out a worst-case scenario: The end of abortion rights in America.

“I didn't want to write a screed,” she explained. “I wanted to write a novel, to bring home how difficult it is for anybody to think about these things on a personal level, which is really the only level where pregnancy can be thought about in any way.”

The novel follows a young woman born at the turn of the millennium named Phoebe Masters. Like her sister, she secretly works as part of a network of people administering “misconceptions,” the word they use to describe abortions.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Ferriss explained how the book essentially disappeared after its first publishing. The book was never given its second printing because of a legal case that accused Ferriss of libel in an earlier novel. Even though the case against Ferriss was ultimately dropped, her publisher at the time decided to move on.

Ferriss credits Washington Post book critic Ron Charles with reviving attention for her novel, which has been rereleased by Wandering Aengus Press. He praised the book, calling it “a startling novel in ways that highlight how unsurprising most pro-choice novels are,” and noting, “Ferriss isn't interested in merely confirming our liberal ideals; she makes us work for them.”

Ferriss acknowledges that her novel’s characters often address abortion in ways that can feel off-putting in 2023. Characters like Phoebe Masters, who risk their lives to provide abortions, speak about “killing babies” or grapple with the question of whether abortion itself is moral. Reflecting on those characters decades later, Ferriss said she created them to reflect what it would be like for abortion rights to survive in a world that overwhelmingly equates the practice with murder.

“I consider myself a pro-choice individual,” she said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “I wrote a novel, and I tried very hard not to impose my point of view on the novel. I'm not preaching with the book. But I do think choice is difficult. Choice is very difficult. It's a burden we carry, and my characters in the book carry that burden with them all their lives.”

On Wednesday at 6 p.m., Lucy Ferriss will discuss “The Misconceiver” at Left Bank Books. A percent of proceeds benefit the Midwest Access Coalition.

Related Event
What: Lucy Ferriss - The Misconceiver
When: 6 p.m. on March 1, 2023
Where: Left Bank Books (399 N. Euclid Ave St. Louis, MO 63108)

Listen to Lucy Ferriss on St. Louis on the Air
Author Lucy Ferriss discusses "The Misconceiver" and its chillingly accurate predictions.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org. 

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."