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

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • birth_control protesterEsquire has a stellar piece on the work of Dr. Willie Parker, a resident of Illinois who flies to Mississippi twice a month to provide abortions to women in the state’s last abortion clinic. It’s a lengthy piece but worth your time. (Esquire)
  • Rand Paul is a lying, liar-faced liar who tried to downplay his and other GOP members’ efforts to diminish women’s access to birth control. (Jezebel)
  • As a matter of fact, the anti-contraception agenda of conservatives has only become more extreme. (RH Reality Check)
  • Texas’ abortion clinics are closing at an alarming rate. (WaPo)
  • As a result of the disappearing clinics, women are increasingly resorting to unsafe methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies. (Cosmopolitan)
  • The last abortion clinic in Toledo, Ohio, is fighting the good fight to remain open. (Toledo Blade)
  • How much do the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” matter in 2014? Bustle investigates. (Bustle)
  • Circumcising men cuts HIV risk among women. (MedPage)

Happy New Year and Family Planning for All!

world health family planningHappy New Year! With the start of the Affordable Care Act this year and birth control available to many American women without a co-pay, we have made great strides to decrease unintended pregnancies in the United States. I was about to write about new contraceptives that may be coming down the pipeline that could add to the already vast array of choices American women have for family planning. As I lay in my warm bed, thankful for being safe and well fed, I thought about women around the world who do not have the choices I have. They aren’t reading articles about new advances in contraceptive choices. Many have no access to contraceptives at all. Globally, 222 million women have an “unmet need for contraception.”


Let’s create a healthier world where we all have access to family planning!


One of the most essential ways to increase a woman’s health and independence is to provide access to family planning. When women have access to contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies result and also fewer unsafe abortions. Women who continue to have unintended pregnancies risk not only their health and the health of their child, they also have fewer educational and economic opportunities. When a woman is able to time and space her pregnancies, the woman, her children, and her community fare better. In communities where rapid population growth is related to unintended pregnancies, social and economic progress is impaired.

Limited access to contraceptives is just a part of the problem. Fear of using modern contraceptives such as the birth control pill also contribute to decreased use of some contraceptives. In many countries, religious and cultural values may have an impact on family planning efforts. Lack of  donor support to put programs of education and access in place are also a factor, especially when many political discussions associate family planning with abortion. Continue reading

Parental Notification Laws: What’s the Harm?

parent teen communicationIf, in 1987, you had asked Bill and Karen Bell if minors should be required to obtain permission from their parents before receiving an abortion, they would have been all for it. It didn’t seem like an extreme or dangerous position — after all, shouldn’t parents have a right to know when a surgical procedure is being performed on their underage children?


Lack of access to effective contraception and safe abortion hurts women.


That all changed in 1988, when their 17-year-old daughter Becky died unexpectedly — 25 years ago today. Becky’s mysterious plea at the hospital, just before she passed away, was for her parents to “please forgive me.” Later, they found a letter that said, “I wish I could tell you everything, but I can’t. I have to deal with it myself. I can do it, and I love you.” Her words made sense when Becky’s death was determined to have been caused by a bacterial infection brought about by an illegal abortion.

In Indiana, where the Bell family resided, minors needed parental permission in order to obtain an abortion. Becky Bell, for whatever reason, didn’t feel she could confide in her parents about her unwanted pregnancy, and while judicial bypasses were technically an option, the judge in her district had never granted one.

The parental-consent law couldn’t force familial communication: Becky either obtained a back-alley abortion or attempted to self-abort — and the unsterilized equipment that was most likely used caused an infection that raged for six days before taking her life. Her grief-stricken parents wrote, “We would rather have not known that our daughter had had an abortion, if it meant that she could have obtained the best of care, and come back home safely to us.” Continue reading