If you thought the author of The Handmaid's Tale would shy away from condemning the barrage of anti-abortion laws being enacted across the country, think again. In fact, Margaret Atwood believes anti-abortion legislation is a "form of slavery" for women.
On Saturday, the author spoke about her book and the critically acclaimed Hulu adaptation in a panel at BookCon in New York City. During the Q&A portion of the event, a man asked her where we go from here in the fight for reproductive rights when "it's virtually impossible for a woman to get an abortion in the state of Texas."
Texas already has some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country. However, Senate Bill 8, commonly known as SB8 and recently approved by Texas lawmakers, aims to take those restrictions even further.
If signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, SB8 would make it illegal to donate foetal tissue and cord blood for research purposes from both abortions and miscarriages, even without receiving payment. SB8 also bans the dilation and extraction procedure, which is typically done in the second trimester. (In the US, only 9% of women obtain an abortion at 14 weeks or later, and slightly more than 1% at 21 weeks or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute.) To top it off, the bill also requires foetal remains be buried or cremated.
In her response, Atwood didn't hold back, and explained why she believes anti-abortion legislation "is a form of slavery" for women. She also said that if anti-choice lawmakers' "dream" is to have women die and children be orphaned, they should keep pursuing their anti-abortion laws.
"Maybe they're just then going to have to figure out, 'Who's going to pay for this?'" Atwood said. "Who is going to pay for the orphans and the dead women? Because that's what you're going to have. And I'm waiting for the first lawsuit. I'm waiting, you know, in which the family of the dead woman sues the state."
She continued, "And I'm also waiting for a lawsuit that says if you force me to have children I cannot afford, you should pay for the whole process. They should pay for my prenatal care. They should pay for my, otherwise, very expensive delivery. You should pay for my health insurance. You should pay for the upkeep of this child after it is born. That's where the concern seems to cut off with these people. Once you take your first breath, [it's] out the window with you. And, it is really a form of slavery to force women to have children that they cannot afford and then to say that they have to raise them."
The author also compared Texas' restrictive anti-abortion laws to the legislation enacted in Romania in the '60s. Back then, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu issued Decree 770, which made abortion and contraception illegal in most cases. The rule was issued in hopes of increasing the population and mandated that a woman under the age of 45 couldn't have an abortion unless she had given birth to five children and her life was at stake. Each case of a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy had to be scrutinised by a committee of doctors, an attorney's office representative, and a militia officer, who ruled whether the woman was eligible to get an abortion.
While Ceausescu was successful in his attempt to increase the population, it came at the cost of the deaths of thousands of women and an increase in the number of orphans across the country.
"It was nuts," Atwood said. "And it did result in a number of suicides and the number of kids being put into orphanages with no proper care at all. I mean, it was just horrible."
She continued, "So, [if] that's what you want, state of Texas, live your dream. Then we can all watch and see what that looks like, and whether you're actually going to go as far as to force this upon women and families and not pay for any of it. If you're drafted into the army, the other situation in which the state seizes control of your body, at least you get three meals a day, clothing, and a place to sleep. So, if you're going to do that to women, pay up."