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Pregnancy and having a baby are meant to be joyful, happy, life-changing events for a woman. And we did mean to say “meant”. You will know exactly what we’re talking about if you have been watching award-winning dystopian thriller-drama The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-current; Season 1 can be streamed or downloaded from Showmax). Based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, fertile women are kept as slaves – breeding machines who do a spot of grocery shopping on the side. Their sole purpose is to do their master’s bidding and warm his bed as and when he sees fit… regardless of whether the handmaid wants to or not. Having a child is no longer her decision – and that future could be around the corner.
“It’s safer for a woman in some states to travel to and give birth in a developing country,” says one of the women interviewed in 2017 reality documentary Birthright: A War Story, which can be found only on from Showmax. The Handmaid’s Tale is worming its way into society as we speak and collateral damage is piling up because of government control and interference in the United States.
The law side
“This isn’t a story about abortion,” explains Robb Deaver in Birthright. “I’ve always wanted to be a father. I wanted to have a family.” Robb and his wife Danielle were pregnant at the end of 2010 and were excited about giving their young son Alex a baby brother or sister. “Everything was normal,” explains Danielle as she wipes away a tear. “My water broke at 22 weeks and 1 day. The odds of a healthy baby were less than two percent. I asked the nurse: at what point do we stop being good loving caring parents and become selfish and cruel for putting our child through an unnecessarily difficult life? I asked her to induce my pregnancy and let nature take its course. But she told me that it would be illegal after a new bill had been passed.”
As part of sweeping legislature across the United States, Danielle’s state of Nebraska had passed the 20-week Foetal Pain Bill that would deem any provider participating in an abortion past 20 weeks to be committing a felony, explains medical doctor Todd Pankratz nervously, adding that “your licence could potentially be taken away from you”. So how does that impact on Danielle and Robb and any other couple in their position, because they were not having an abortion? “I was not having this procedure,” explains Danielle. “It was not an abortion. This law should not have affected me.” As it turns out, the law won’t see it that way, explains Dr Pankratz: “The legislature will see any elective delivery of a baby that is non-viable as being an abortion”. And since it’s the law, there’s nothing that the parents can do about it.
Fact or fiction?
The Birthright homepage makes no excuses for the story it’s telling: “it’s time to join the movement. Our documentary tells the stories of women across the US under siege. Every day, their ability to make their own decisions about their bodies, health, reproduction, sexuality and childbirth is under attack. Political, religious, corporate – even governmental – factions in this country are waging a war on women’s health. And, they’re not just battling over abortion. This is the real life Handmaid’s Tale. And we are fighting back.”
It’s frightening listening to the women who’ve experienced this control first hand. “There were three officers around me and they asked if I had an unlawful miscarriage,” says one, with another adding: “They took out their handcuffs and told me there was a warrant for my arrest.” This isn’t a new war though – Pro-Life (anti-abortion) and Pro-Choice (it’s the woman’s choice) lobbyists and activists have been waging war since 1973 when two court rulings changed US legislation (read more here and here).
Anti-choice, in its barest form, is control, according to Birthright. Like the handmaids, women’s decisions are being taken away from them. They are being told what they can and can’t do and should they go against the law, there are repercussions. While it’s not as bleak as in The Handmaid’s Tale, where handmaids are stoned to death, have their eyes gouged out, are electrocuted with cattle prods or are banished to The Colonies to clean up radioactive waste, certain US legislation is punishing women for things that may be out of their control. And it’s not going to get sorted out anytime soon, hints one of the experts interviewed in Birthright: “The last time this country dealt with an issue of this dynamic, we shot each other to dollrags on the civil war battlefield.”
America, right now, is waging war on women, their bodies and their choices. But don’t take our word for it – watch Birthright, listen to the statistics, hear the mothers and women who’re affected by legislation. It’s scary just how similar it sounds to The Handmaid’s Tale…
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