Margaret Atwood has compared forced childbirth to “slavery” in a new essay published online on Saturday (7 May).
In the excerpt from The Handmaid’s Tale author’s new book of essays, Burning Questions, Atwood writes that “women who cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have babies are enslaved because the state claims ownership of their bodies and the right to dictate the use to which their bodies must be put”.
Atwood’s ssay was published as an extract in The Guardian on Saturday 7 May, amid the outrage over the US Supreme Court likely overturning Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that guarantees the constitutional right to abortion care in the country.
On Monday (2 May), an initial draft majority opinion was leaked, suggesting that the court will overturn the decision, which legalised abortion nationwide.
The news has been strongly criticised by politicians, activists and members of the public on social media, with a number of high-profile arts figures also weighing in.
In her essay, Atwood – who is due to appear at the Santa Fe Literary Festival this month – likens forced birth to men’s compulsory enrolment for service in the armed forces because both present “risk to the individual’s life” but notes “an army conscript is at least provided with food, clothing, and lodging.”
In fact, “even criminals in prisons have a right to those things,” the Canadian author argues, adding that the state must pay to support expecting mothers and their children, if it is “mandating enforced child birth”.
“But I doubt that the state is willing to go so far as to provide the needed resources,” the Booker Prize winner continued, adding: “Instead, it just wants to reinforce the usual cheap trick: force women to have babies, and then make them pay. And pay. And pay.
“As I said, slavery.”
Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane pointed out on Twitter that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade would bring America closer to the dystopian state in Atwood’s most well-known novel.
He wrote: “As the staggeringly partisan, right wing-dominated SCOTUS nudges America closer to Handmaid’s Tale status, the importance of voting in EVERY election becomes even more obvious. One would hope today’s news erases any further delusions that ‘both parties are pretty much the same.’”
Questlove also referenced The Handmaid’s Tale in relation to the debate over abortions in the US, sharing an image from its TV adaptation on Twitter and commenting: “Welp. We got through the House Of Cards era….Now we bout to visit the Handmaids Tale era. Y’all better get on the ball w these midterms smh.”
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