Coming of age in the age of Atwood

Texas’s new abortion law, dubbed “the heartbeat bill,” bans abortions six weeks from the patient’s last menstrual cycle, and is a disgusting display of misogyny. The Senate 8 Bill or “heartbeat bill” creates a vigilante justice scenario where neighbors are encouraged and rewarded when they report people for “aiding and abetting” an abortion, from the person receiving the abortion to the Lyft driver who transported them to the clinic. The Bill disregards many of the conditions surrounding a person choosing to get an abortion and makes no real initiative to stop abortions at their root, instead seeking only to punish and shame those who receive or administer abortions. Following in the footsteps of Margret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the Senate 8 Bill strips women of their personhood and autonomy, violating the constitution.

If a medical provider administers an abortion after a heart beat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks, they are eligible to be sued by any private citizen under the Senate Bill 8 for “aiding and abetting” an abortion. If the court rules in favor of the private citizen, this private citizen is still eligible to be rewarded $10,000 and the covering of their legal fees for tattling, even though it could be anyone, including those who have no significance or relation to the person receiving the abortion.

The law bans abortions after six weeks, but for many people that means the moment they find out that they are pregnant it is already too late. A “normal” menstrual cycle is around 30 days and unless they carefully track it, a majority of people are not acutely aware of their periods and the time between them. Others have irregular periods, so they would not know if they had missed one. As a result, some people are further along when they realize they are pregnant which the bill fails to take into account. The Bill also fails to consider people seeking to terminate their pregnancies because of rape or serious medical conditions that would imperil either the fetus or the pregnant woman. Despite rape and incest being less common amongst the causes of abortion cases, it is truly horrific to imagine what it would be like to be forced not only to be a single parent, but to carry to term a fetus created because of a violent act.

Texas state laws do not require Texas public schools to teach sex education in their curriculum. Because of this, young women are especially in peril with the Senate 8 Bill. Sixteen year olds who lack adequate sex education or have learned an abstinence only curriculum should not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term in a society that already disparages single mothers. They also should not have to give their children up to a broken foster care system. But, of course, rather than invest in proper sex education and the reformation of foster care systems, or even allocate money to health and childcare programs for mothers, Texas lawmakers choose to regulate and control women’s reproductive systems rather than the root causes of abortion. Texas’s goal should be to create a society in which people feel safe, educated, and prepared enough to have children. But alas, it was never about saving lives or creating a safer society for Texas. No, it was about controlling women and swaying people to the Republican Party with single issue voters.

Atwood wrote her dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in 1985. In it, young women are given to high ranking couples and forced to endure rape repeatedly and carry to term any child borne of this violence. A Hulu series that is a spinoff of Atwood’s novel, A Handmaid’s Tale, extends the narrative to cast light on our current historical moment in which politicians seek to control some of the most fundamental aspects of a woman’s life. Atwood’s novel, moreover, did not spring solely from an active imagination, but was based on centuries of the surveillance and biopolitical control of half the population, from the treatment of herbal healers and medicinal workers in the Middle Ages in Europe to the forced sterilization of Native American, African American and LatinX women in the U.S.

Can you imagine if we called organ donors (or any other group of people for that matter), “host bodies,” as one Florida lawmaker called pregnant people, and took away their basic legal rights as citizens? At the end of the day that is what it comes down to: autonomy and paternalism. Even if your parents needed a kidney transplant in a life threatening situation to save themselves, the law prevents them from non-consensually using your body to retrieve your organ. It is no different with pregnancy and the Senate 8 Bill. It is unethical to enforce laws by regulating the use of an autonomous being’s body without their consent or by circumventing protected and constitutional rights of half the population.