In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, a fundamentalist country called Gilead rose out of the ashes of what was once the United States of America. In this autocratic country, men ruled with exclusive and absolute power.
Women, on the other hand, are relegated to being housewives and child-bearers. They are not allowed to have jobs. They are not allowed to have an opinion. They are not allowed to read. They are not even allowed to use their own names. If they cannot have children, their husbands can request for child-bearing handmaids if they are wealthy and influential enough. If not, these hapless individuals become labeled as “unwomen” and exiled for life to an island filled with nuclear waste.
The Handmaid’s Tale was first published in 1985 and adapted for television in 2017. At that time, the future that this novel described seemed unthinkable. After all, women’s rights in the US are protected by landmark rulings such as Roe v. Wade. Gilead could not become a reality, could it?
After June 24, 2022, we are no longer so sure. On that fateful day, the US Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years after it was first upheld.
As an organization led by and made up mostly of women, Sacred Fire Creative decries this decision. We are heartbroken beyond words at this blow to our human rights.
Roe v. Wade goes beyond abortion.
On its surface, Roe v. Wade is a 1973 US Supreme Court ruling that federally protects a woman’s right to privacy and to terminate her pregnancy legally.
But it goes so much deeper than that.
Roe v. Wade is a statement about women’s human rights. It recognizes that a woman has the right to self-determination and can decide for herself what to do with her own body. It also acknowledges that a woman has the right to fully and equally participate in the workings of society.
Roe v. Wade is an assertion that a woman is a person and not just a walking uterus.
Roe v. Wade is overturned. Now what?
The overturning of Roe v. Wade doesn’t change a number of fundamental facts:
- Banning abortion has a significant economic impact. To this day, women are still the primary caregivers in the family. Parenthood forces 43% of highly qualified women to leave the workforce. This translates to lower paychecks per household, lower spending power, and lowered demand for consumer goods that drive GDP.
- No matter how passionate pro-life advocates are about saving babies from abortion, our society does not have adequate support in place for mothers. As mentioned earlier, parenthood often pushes women out of the workforce. Women who have to stay working often face reduced earning capacities simply because they don’t have access to affordable childcare. We also don’t have a national policy for paid parental leaves.
- Banning abortion forces women, especially those in lower-income and minority groups, to live in poverty or stay with abusive partners. In fact, it’s already a reality today. Many studies, including the 2010 Turnaway Study by the University of California in San Francisco, found that the majority of women who sought abortions did so to protect and provide for their already existing children.
- Removing safe and legal access to abortion denies women with unwanted pregnancies, particularly teenage women and rape survivors, the ability to move on with their lives. It can prohibit them from seeking higher education and better work opportunities. It can also have a significant effect on their physical and mental health.
Our society does not have ample support for mothers. Nor do we have policies that protect against unwanted pregnancies. Even with abortion bans, women will continue to seek abortions. The difference now is that they may resort to illegal and unsafe means to terminate pregnancies. The consequences can become much more dangerous.
A woman is a person too.
Don’t get us wrong. We believe that motherhood is a beautiful thing. We support women who choose to become mothers. But the keyword here is “choice” – women have the right to choose when and how to become mothers, and this right needs to be protected at all costs.
A woman is a person too. There is more to her than her uterus and her ability to bring forth children. That, we believe, is the essential message of Roe v. Wade. By overturning this landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court signals that we are less. We might as well wear a Gilead handmaid’s red dress.