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Women Dressed As Handmaids Stage Silent Protest Over Abortion Rights

For these red-robed women, the dystopian future is now

In late March, when group of women showed up to the Texas Senate building to protest a bill that restricted abortion access in the state, what they were wearing—long red robes and white bonnets—probably seemed strange to most folks. That is, unless they had read The Handmaid’s Tale, the 1985 dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood that depicts a totalitarian society, one that captures women who are able to get pregnant, allowing them to be raped and forcing them to have children.


But now that The Handmaid’s Tale, the Hulu series based on the book, has become an acclaimed hit, perhaps the jarring sight of a dozen or so women dressed in red cloaks and white bonnets has more significance to bystanders.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]The handmaids are forced to give birth.[/quote]

At least that seems to be the hope of a group of red-robed reproductive rights activists who showed up on Tuesday to a hearing on Ohio Senate Bill 145. The costumed women filed into the Ohio State House in Columbus and sat in eerie silence through a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the bill.

Ohio Senate Bill 145 would ban and criminalize second trimester abortions performed through dilation and evacuation (D&E) throughout the state. If the bill passes, doctors who perform the procedure could be charged with a felony and punished with up to 18 months in jail, unless the life of the mother is at serious risk.

Jaime Miracle, the deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, one of the organizers of the handmaid-themed protest, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer she sees plenty of parallels between what’s happening in Ohio and the television series and book.

“The handmaids are forced to give birth and, in so many cases, because of all the restrictions on abortion access, women in Ohio and across the country are being forced to give birth,” said Miracle.

But Katherine Franklin, the director of communications for Ohio Right to Life, told the newspaper that to have protesters showing up in the costumes mocked the gravity of the issue. “We're trying to have a serious conversation about what happens to an unborn child in the womb, a child who is vulnerable," said Franklin.

Nationally only 1.3 percent of abortions take place at or after 21 weeks, according to data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Only about 0.2 percent of all abortions performed across the nation use the dilation and evacuation procedure, and the decision to do so isn’t one that’s made lightly.

In one of last fall’s presidential debates, Hillary Clinton explained why some women decide to have a second (or third) trimester abortion. “The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make,” she told moderator Chris Wallace. “I have met with women who, toward the end of their pregnancy, get the worst news one could get — that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term, or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy.”

Meanwhile, at the hearing in Ohio, NARAL-Ohio tweeted that the “Bill sponsor is talking about how women cannot be trusted to make their own healthcare decisions.” It’s a reminder that what’s freaking out so many viewers of The Handmaid’s Tale is that things they thought could never happen in the United States (even though they’re happening in other parts of the world) now seem less like science fiction and more like reality.

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