For women in states with Republican-controlled legislatures bent on curbing reproductive rights, the world in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale hits all too close to home. And rather than just letting this comparison stay in the internet's imagination, some Missouri women protesting abortion restrictions channeled The Handmaid's Tale after a new set of new restraints were put forward. Specifically, Missouri State Rep. Robert Ross introduced an amendment to block any public funds from going to providing abortion services — but the bill has very broad implications.
The wording in the bill is vague enough that not only does it defund Planned Parenthood, it also blocks organizations that provide abortions in any case from receiving funds from the Missouri Women’s State Funded Health Services Program. There's one exception: abortions that save the life of the mother. There are no exceptions, however, for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or severe complications with the pregnancy. It could also restrict funding for health care providers that even refer women to abortion providers, which means that it essentially prevents doctors from informing women of their full range of options.
The amendment represents such an attack on reproductive rights that the organizers of this protest, which included NARAL and Planned Parenthood, felt that The Handmaid's Tale was the perfect place to go for a comparison. In that story, which has recently jumped back into the public consciousness because it was made into a series on Hulu, some women are enslaved and must act as surrogates for wealthier women.
With their credit cards taken away and their bodies forced into the service of others, the women in The Handmaid's Tale represent the pinnacle of a society in which reproductive rights are denied. According to the women protesting, Missouri is taking a step down that path towards the situation in the fictional land of Gilead by taking away a woman's right to choose in such a draconian manner. “Gilead took credit cards, #MOleg is taking Medicaid cards," read one sign at the protest.
Many have pointed out the parallels between The Handmaid's Tale and American politics right now, and this protest was just forcing people to see that comparison. In an even richer twist, the women protesting had to remove their bonnets before going into the chamber. Even so, though, they at least caught the notice of women across the country. Whether the protest will have any effect on the legislators taking Missouri women's health into their hands, however, is another issue entirely.