The Handmaid’s Tale is newly relevant in Trump’s America

By Jesse Goodwin, Staff Writer

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, originally published in 1985, is one of several classic dystopian novels which have appeared on Amazon’s best-sellers list since President Trump’s election victory.

Its premise resembles Trump’s and the GOP’s anti-choice agenda.
An upcoming Hulu adaptation of the novel, which begins airing on April 26, has also contributed to its resurging popularity.

In Atwood’s novel, the U.S. government is overthrown by a fundamentalist Christian theocracy known as the Republic of Gilead.

The Republic suspends the Constitution, erodes women’s rights, and reorganizes society along militarized, hierarchical lines.

The protagonist, Offred, is a member of a social class known as “handmaids,” fertile women whose purpose is to breed children as fertility declines among both men and women.

The novel follows Offred as she fights for her freedom and searches for her husband and child, who were separated from her.

Tellingly, the novel inspired protests of Senate Bills 25 and 415, two anti-choice measures that were considered by the Texas Senate on March 20.

SB 25 prevents doctors from encouraging abortions to avoid “wrongful birth” lawsuits, meaning that parents of congenitally diseased children can no longer sue doctors who failed to inform them of the risk of giving birth.

This gives doctors an incentive to lie to or withhold information from patients.
Sen. Brandon Creighton, the bill’s author, told the Texas Tribune that without his bill, doctors could “be sued for just practicing medicine” and would feel discouraged from practicing in the state.

SB 415 prohibits doctors from giving “dilation and evacuation” abortions, in which doctors surgically remove pieces of fetal tissue; this is a common second-trimester abortion procedure. If the bill becomes law, doctors who perform the procedure would be charged with a state felony and face jail time.

Sen. José Rodriguez, a member of the Democratic opposition, told the Tribune that both bills appear “to be about restricting and further limiting a woman’s right to exercise her choice about what she’s going to do in the case of serious defects to the fetus.”

The Huffington Post reported that Texas women dressed in red robes and white bonnets—the uniform of “handmaids” in Atwood’s novel—arrived at the Senate chamber to protest both bills, which ultimately passed by votes of 21-9 and were sent to the Texas House for approval.

These bills are just two of many anti-choice measures considered or enacted by legislators. According to a policy analysis from The Guttmacher Institute, a “research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and globally,” 18 states, most of which are Southern states, enacted 50 new abortion restrictions last year.

The analysis also found that nearly 95 percent of Southern women live in states that are considered hostile or “extremely hostile” to reproductive rights.

Despite the novel’s newfound relevance, Hulu picked up the series in April of last year, before Trump became the Republican presidential nominee.

“I was asleep before, that’s how they let it happen,” narrates actress Elisabeth Moss, who portrays Offred, in the series’ trailer. “When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists, and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up either. Now I’m awake.”

“There are obvious similarities to what’s happening now, but it goes back much further than that,” Moss told Cosmopolitan in January.

“Margaret [Atwood] told me she wrote the book as a response to things that were happening in the world. They might not have been happening exactly like that in the United States, but they were happening.”

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