The Handmaid’s Tale: Dystopian Fiction or a Blueprint for the Future?

Photo: Fiona

When Hulu announced Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale was being adapted for a TV series, so many people involved refused to call it a feminist story — even though the entire plot centers on a society that has stripped every right away from women. The book’s female characters are forced to take the name of the man who possesses them, changing it as they are passed between men. Their worth is based solely on their ability to produce children, having been turned into “hosts,” or breeding units for the elite. And if you think that terminology originated in Atwood’s head, you’d be wrong — that term wasn’t from the book or show. It was from Rep. Justin Humphrey of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, just last February.


If they can take away our agency over our bodies, the rest doesn’t matter.


Ms. Atwood has stated that nothing in the book is new. Every degradation, every dehumanization is something that has happened, or is currently happening, to women somewhere in the world. And many people were quick to point to the parallels between the dystopian society painted by Atwood decades ago and the vision of a society idealized by many of our most conservative lawmakers.

Case in point: The Republican Administration recently signed an executive order allowing states to deny funding to Planned Parenthood, which will make it difficult for many low-income women to access contraception — an invaluable tool in asserting control over one’s fertility and destiny. (Vice President Pence should have known better; after all, his home state of Indiana is still fighting one of the worst outbreaks of HIV in decades, which was caused in part by defunding a major provider of HIV testing and treatment.) And attacks on access to contraception are just the tip of the iceberg.

But still, this was not really something I was going to write about, until late last month when I was listening to NPR. They talked to a young woman who stated that if Planned Parenthood would “just stop giving abortions,” then they could keep their funding. Although she liked the health care that Planned Parenthood provided, she wondered, “at what cost?

I am going to tell you the cost of not having access to the services Planned Parenthood provides — including contraception, screening for domestic violence, and, yes, abortion. Continue reading

The Peace Corps Equity Act: A Step Forward in Expanding Abortion Access

Peace Corps AfricaLast month, President Obama signed into law the new budget for 2015, which includes coverage for Peace Corps volunteers who need abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Why is this news item a big deal? Because 63 percent of Peace Corps volunteers are women, a first-trimester abortion costs more than a Peace Corps volunteer makes in a month, and sexual assault is a risk for Peace Corps volunteers. Of course, abortion and sexual assault are difficult subjects, and when you put them both together and remind the public that, until now, Peace Corps volunteers who became pregnant as a result of sexual assault while on the job were subjected to undue financial burdens on top of everything else, you might see a lot of criticism of the Peace Corps. And, for returned Peace Corps volunteers, that criticism might sting.


The Peace Corps Equity Act represents an important step forward.


As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I have a hard time writing this piece. I feel like I am airing our dirty laundry.

In my experience, most people are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps. And when all that makes the news is that the Peace Corps “fails” its female volunteers with respect to abortion and sexual assault, it’s hard for those of us who know and love the Peace Corps to talk openly about these issues.

The Peace Corps, however, has failed no one — they have had their hands tied by rules put into place decades ago by our government. The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. funds to pay for foreign abortions, including those of Peace Corps volunteers. The first time I ever heard about it was during training, when we were told that it meant we could not discuss abortion with locals or counsel around abortion as an option. Continue reading

The Best of 2014: Our Bloggers Pick Their Favorite Posts

The year 2014 was a big one here at the blog — we published 146 new pieces, many of which educated our readers about our endorsed candidates during the midterm elections. In addition to energizing voters, we fostered health literacy with our pieces about sexual, reproductive, and preventive health care, and promoted social justice causes with articles on women’s and LGBTQ rights. Below, we share our bloggers’ best pieces from 2014!

kidsCare joined our blogging team this year, and hit the ground running with two consecutive posts about her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Western Africa. In August, she observed National Immunization Awareness Month with a reflection on the importance of vaccination — both in the developing world and here in the United States. During her time in the Peace Corps, Care saw the devastation that diseases like measles, meningitis, and chickenpox wrought in the communities she served. Access to vaccines was not taken for granted in Western Africa — it was seen as a matter of life or death. Later, when Care returned to the United States — where many of us do take this access for granted — she discovered first-hand what happens in states with high vaccination-refusal rates. So if you don’t think skipping shots is a big deal, think again!

pillflag thumbnailMatt’s posts tackled a lot of topics this year, but in light of last month’s less-than-stellar election results, we’d like to shine the spotlight on his post from last June, Six Things Arizona Is Doing Right. Across the state, communities are recognizing the importance of comprehensive sex education, affirming transgender rights, promoting body acceptance, and fighting against domestic violence! So if Arizona politics have been bumming you out lately, read about six things we’re doing right, from the Capitol to the Pascua Yaqui Nation, and from Tempe to Tucson!

zombies thumbnailAnna focused mostly on sexually transmitted diseases this year, but one of her favorite posts was an evaluation of different birth control methods’ suitability during the zombie apocalypse. Maybe if more female writers were hired in Hollywood, “minutiae” like family planning would be addressed in zombie-filled scripts and screenplays. But instead, the female characters that populate these narratives don’t seem overly worried about unintended pregnancies (and somehow find the time and the supplies for the removal of their underarm hair). Until our zombie dramas are more realistic in their handling of women’s issues, be prepared for the worst and read Anna’s assessment of your best bets for birth control. (Her pick for the apocalypse, by the way, is the implant!)

afghan girlRachel observed the International Day of the Girl Child in October by focusing on sexual violence against girls. Unsurprisingly, this problem can be found in every corner of the earth, and Rachel discusses atrocities in both the developing world and in industrialized nations. Despite deep-seated misogyny that permeates many cultures, positive changes are made possible by the work of activists, from young girls risking their lives fighting for the right to education in Pakistan, to advocates lobbying to strengthen penalties for convicted rapists, as in the case of Audrie’s Law, signed by California’s governor last October. Rachel’s provocative, disturbing, and informative post asks us if empowering girls is good enough — or if we also need to address the root of the problem, which lies with the perpetrators and their enablers.

clinic escortsStacey, a former clinic escort, helped our patients for more than a year, and in March she drew from that experience in an incredibly powerful piece on the importance of protecting the buffer zone, the distance that anti-abortion protesters were made to keep between themselves and patients. The buffer zone was one of the tools we used to protect our patients’ dignity and safety. It was no surprise, then, that the buffer zone came under attack this year when it was challenged in front of the Supreme Court. What did come as a surprise to many reproductive-justice advocates, however, was the highest court’s unanimous decision to strike down buffer zones for protesters at abortion clinics, helping to make 2014 a dismal year in women’s rights.

Gay Liberation Front 1969Marcy’s post on the Stonewall Riots broke traffic records on our blog — not bad for one of our newest bloggers — so if you missed it the first time around, check it out now. Forty-five years ago, the modern LGBTQ movement was born as the patrons of a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn rose up against police. The LGBTQ population was often a target for harassment by police, and the Stonewall Riots turned that violence back on their oppressors. We now celebrate Pride every June in honor of the Stonewall Riots, and while our society has made tremendous gains over the past 45 years, we still have a lot of work to do. Learn about the riots themselves, as well as the current state of LGBTQ rights in the United States.

two women thumbnailMichelle is another new blogger, and her inaugural post discussed a gynecological disorder called PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is characterized by a constellation of symptoms that can include irregular periods, weight gain, sluggishness, thinning hair, depression, acne, infertility, and ovarian cysts. It affects an estimated 5 million Americans, but it’s thought to be underdiagnosed and its symptoms are largely stigmatized. Michelle lays out an interesting case for how this stigma might contribute to doctors failing to recognize it: It’s easier to blame someone’s dietary choices or physical-activity levels for weight gain and fatigue, rather than look more closely at underlying physiological problems, such as hormone imbalances, that could actually be causing the sufferers’ symptoms. For Michelle, awareness is key, so check out her informative post!

NOW thumbnailTori taught us about the Scheidler v. NOW “trilogy” of Supreme Court cases, which pitted anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler against feminist advocacy group National Organization for Women. In case you’re scratching your head, wondering what the heck Scheidler v. NOW is and why it’s important, check out Tori’s fantastic summary of this series of cases. She describes the atmosphere of violence that increasingly characterized the anti-abortion movement throughout the 1980s, eventually giving rise to a lawsuit, filed by NOW, claiming that abortion protesters’ tactics qualified as extortion under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down buffer zones, the anti-abortion movement’s history of harassment, vandalism, and violence is more relevant than ever.

SILCS_diaphragm thumbnailRebecca is a pharmacist who brings her passion for reproductive autonomy into focus with her series of posts on contraceptive methods. In August, she informed us about a one-size-fits-most, over-the-counter diaphragm that should hit U.S. pharmacies in 2015. Although it might kick off a resurgence in the diaphragm’s popularity in the industrialized world, it was actually developed to make effective contraception more accessible in developing countries. As Rebecca told us, we Americans are very privileged to have access to such a wide range of contraceptive options — but it’s important to remember that the variety of choices we enjoy isn’t available to everyone, who might face cultural, financial, or logistical barriers when it comes to having the means to control their fertility. Check out Rebecca’s post about Caya, the next generation of diaphragms, coming to a pharmacy near you but helping women worldwide!

It’s August: A Time to Be Aware of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Image: Kona Gallagher

There are many simple things we can do to protect our children. Image: Kona Gallagher

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. The importance of vaccination is becoming a bigger issue every year, as 2014 has seen the highest number of measles cases reported since 2000. That is scary.

Too many people think that diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chickenpox are “normal childhood illnesses,” and that their kid’s immune system is strong enough to fight off these diseases. Too many people have forgotten what it was like before vaccines were commonplace. Too many people don’t stop to think about the long-term consequences of not vaccinating. Not just for them, but for those around them. Even for people they have never met.


When people tell me measles isn’t a big deal, I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.


I am one of those people you have never met.

My story starts before I was even born. My older brother was given the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. He was one of the small percentage of recipients that had a bad reaction. So when I was born, they skipped giving it to me. Not to worry, herd immunity would protect me — at least that’s what my doctor said.  Continue reading

Care Is Here Because She’s Seen a World Without Planned Parenthood

Children in West Africa. Photograph courtesy of Care.

Children in West Africa. Photograph courtesy of Care.

Our newest blogger is named Care, who shares with us the lessons she learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in this powerful piece.

My relationship with Planned Parenthood has grown and evolved over my life. When I was a kid, my dad, who was a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood, would tell me how important their work was and how thankful I should be every day for it. He used to walk up to anti-abortion people and ask them how many kids they had adopted, or offered to adopt, during their time as protesters.


In West Africa, there are no coat hangers. There are a lot of bicycle spokes, though.


I was never more than cursorily interested in Planned Parenthood and what they did though. Sure, they did STD prevention and treatment. Sure, they did women’s health. Sure, they did abortion services. But, like most people who grew up post-Roe v. Wade, that last one meant little to me. I never knew a world where abortions and birth control were inaccessible. I never knew a world where condoms and safer sex were not taught. So it is understandable that my dad, who would tell me about girls he knew who were seriously injured or even killed by back-alley abortions, would be more of an activist than I was.

This all changed in 2006. I was 23 years old and a Peace Corps volunteer. I was assigned to a village in a remote part of West Africa. The community told me that what they really needed was someone to help out in the “hospital,” a rural health clinic, the only one in the district. We served more than 20 villages in two countries. I was lucky — I worked with dedicated people who cared more about the welfare of the community than anything else.

One of these things was helping with women who had “fallen off a bicycle.” For the first time in my life, I was living in a place where abortion was illegal. Continue reading