The story, set in small-town Ontario in 1960, takes the form of letters to her ex-fiancé from a young woman who has returned to the home of her father, a widowed physician who lives with his housekeeper, Mrs. Barrie. She recalls growing up with her strict and remote father and realizes now that he had been performing illegal abortions all her life. He will not discuss it, will not allow the word "abortion" to be said in his house, though she tells him she believes abortion should be legalized.

We are led to suspect that she herself has recently been pregnant.

When Mrs. Barrie breaks her arm, the doctor is forced to ask his daughter to assist with one of his "special" patients. She helps the young woman throughout the procedure, and disposes of the aborted fetus afterwards. Later, trapped indoors by a heavy snowfall, she and her father are sitting together at the kitchen table when she tells him about her own pregnancy.

She had carried it to term, giving up the baby for adoption. She had ended the engagement because her fiancé, a theology student, had insisted that she have an abortion before their wedding because he feared the social consequences of rumors that she had been pregnant before marriage. She is about to ask her father about his own work, and about what might happen should the law change and abortion become legal, when she realizes that he is not listening. He has had a massive stroke, and dies later the same day. The daughter turns away the next patient who calls about having an abortion.

She learns from the lawyer that, mysteriously, her father had virtually no money saved. She gives Mrs. Barrie most of the small amount her father had given her, and then realizes that all his money has already been given to Mrs. Barrie, either because she was blackmailing him, or because he loved her. She cannot tell which, but is oddly exhilarated and is now able to say goodbye to her fiancé for good.


The title refers to the time before the legalization of abortion, and also before social changes which diminished the stigma attached to pregnancy outside of marriage. It is a story of frustrated communication and ambiguous motivation, raising questions about care and caring: the physician father is coldly detached with his patients, yet takes great risks to help them. This contrasts with the narrator's sympathy and warmth to the patient at whose operation she assists.

At the same time, we are not allowed to sympathize wholly with the patients, whose motives for abortion are not presented as entirely unquestionable--but nor is the narrator's decision, to give birth to her child and have it adopted. Munro's refusal to give us a simple message makes this story a valuable addition to any discussion about abortion and the medical profession, and about the relationship between power, kindness, necessity, and love.


First published in the New Yorker. The collection, The Love of a Good Woman, won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Primary Source

The Love of a Good Woman: Stories


Random House: Vintage

Place Published

New York



Page Count