Why We’re Not ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: States Are Boldly Expanding Abortion Access and Fiercely Protecting Bodily Autonomy
By Miriam Berg | June 25, 2019, 12:15 p.m.
You’ve heard the comparisons: the America we live in now is a few steps away from The Handmaid’s Tale. In that show and the book it’s based on, women live under a dictatorship that controls their bodies. Women don’t get to decide whether to be pregnant or raise a child — while an authoritarian, male-dominated regime uses flowery, religious rhetoric to make their abuse sound virtuous.
In real life, politicians are trying to ban abortion, rob women of their bodily autonomy, and risk women’s health — all while pretending to claim the moral high ground. The outright abortion ban that passed in Alabama, and the six-week abortion bans that have passed in several states portend a monumental challenge to Roe v. Wade — the 1973 Supreme Court case that affirmed the constitutional right to access abortion. And if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, at least 20 states are poised to outlaw abortion.
But that’s not the end of the story. Just as in The Handmaid’s Tale, the resistance is strong. There is hope. And unlike Gilead, we still have free speech in America — and we’re using the power of our collective voice to fight back and make real gains.
You don't need to take our word for it. The Handmaid’s Tale cast has condemned abortion bans and said, loud and clear: This is not Gilead.
The Good News
Pro-reproductive health lawmakers are stepping up not only to protect people’s health and ensure abortion remains safe and legal in their states, but also to expand access. In several state legislatures, lawmakers have taken abortion out of the criminal code to treat it as what it is: health care. Their landmark bills are changing the abortion landscape in their states for the better,
Enacted: New York’s Reproductive Health Act
When the Reproductive Health Act was signed into law in New York in January, anti-abortion politicians spewed explosive lies about it, which the New York State Senate has corrected time and again. Here's what the law actually does:
Affirms abortion is a “fundamental right” in the state of New York. It ensures that, if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, abortion would remain a legal health procedure — and patients and doctors would not go to jail.
Moves abortion regulations off the state’s criminal code (where it had been for almost 50 years) and onto its health code.
Expands access to abortion later in pregnancy if the woman’s health is at risk or if the pregnancy cannot survive.
New York’s Reproductive Health Act is one of the strongest protections for abortion access in the country. It’s about making sure that at every point in a pregnancy, a woman's health (and not politicians’ ideology), drives medical decisions.
Enacted: Nevada’s Trust Nevada Women Act
In May, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the Trust Nevada Women Act into law. Like New York’s Reproductive Health Act, it strikes down ancient criminal punishments for providing abortion. In addition, Nevada doctors are no longer forced to ascertain a woman’s marital status or age, and don’t have to parrot a state-mandated script with politically motivated and inaccurate warnings about the "emotional implications" of abortion.
Enacted: Illinois’s Reproductive Health Act
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the state’s Reproductive Health Act into law on June 12. The Illinois Reproductive Health Act codifies into law that abortion is not a crime. It also fixes the state’s outdated abortion law with regulations that reflect current medical standards.
Enacted: Vermont’s Act to Preserve the Right to Abortion
In Vermont, another sweeping abortion rights bill passed the legislature and has been signed by the G.O.P. governor Phil Scott . The legislation — H.57, "An Act Relating to Preserving the Right to Abortion" — affirms "the fundamental right of every individual who becomes pregnant to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion." The measure stops law enforcement from prosecuting abortion providers.
Passed to Full Senate: Rhode Island’s Reproductive Health Care Act
Rhode Island’s Reproductive Health Care Act protects the right to safe, legal abortion. It also repeals unconstitutional laws from Rhode Island's law book. On June 13, the state Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted to pass the legislation to the Senate floor.
Introduced: Massachusetts’s ROE Act
Reproductive health champions in Massachusetts recently introduced the Remove Obstacles and Expand (ROE) Abortion Access Act in the state House and Senate. Like reproductive health acts in other states, the ROE Act would put the right to abortion in state law and allow for abortion care later in pregnancy under medical conditions that threaten the woman’s health. It also nixes parental consent and 24-hour waiting period requirements, as well as corrects inflammatory and medically inaccurate definitions of abortion and pregnancy in the current law.
Building on Strength
These states illustrate the power and momentum of the abortion rights movement. In fact, 25 states have introduced bills to affirm and protect reproductive rights during their 2019 legislative sessions.
As of this writing, 12 states have already enacted laws that would protect the right to abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned. That list includes Illinois, Nevada, New York, and Vermont as mentioned above, as well as California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Oregon and Washington.
Good News from the Courts, Attorneys General
In addition to passing bills in state legislatures, reproductive-rights champions are moving to safeguard abortion access through the courts. In April, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed that the state’s constitution guarantees the right to “decide whether to continue a pregnancy.” That ruling could pave the way for advocates of safe and legal abortion to challenge abortion restrictions in Kansas.
Meanwhile, attorneys general in Michigan and New Mexico pledged not to prosecute people seeking abortion or abortion providers if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Both states have laws on the books that would criminalize abortion if Roe is overturned.
Americans Support Abortion Access
This wave of legal, and public affirmations reflects Americans’ strong support for access to safe, legal abortion. A vast majority of people in the United States — 77% of Americans, in fact — do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Image Source: Hulu Tumblr
Join the Resistance
The biggest difference between America now and The Handmaid’s Tale: We don’t have to resist in the shadows. We can be loud and proud. We can shout our solidarity from the rooftops. We can fight back in the open.
Use your voice. Tell your elected officials to get their #BansOffMyBody.
Bans Off My Body
Our bodies are our own — if they are not, we cannot be truly free or equal. Our right to abortion care is not debatable.
Sign on to say: No bans. Not now, not ever.