The Handmaid's Tale: A new uniform for women's rights protests
More than a dozen pro-choice activists filed into the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday to protest a bill on abortion. Drawing inspiration from Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale, they wore red cloaks and white bonnets while sitting silently in the front row of a hearing room.
The bill in question, Senate Bill 145, would ban a method of abortion called dilation and evacuation. It's the most common used abortion procedure during the second trimester, explains protest organizer Jaime Miracle. She's the Deputy Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
The <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/OhioHandmaids?src=hash">#OhioHandmaids</a> waiting silently as the state considers the next plan to force women to give birth against their wishes or medical advice <a href="https://t.co/pGBBBlK9rO">pic.twitter.com/pGBBBlK9rO</a>—@ProChoiceOH
It's not the first time that the stark imagery of The Handmaid's Tale has been embraced by pro-choice protesters around the United States. Miracle spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the idea. Here's a part of that conversation:
JAIME MIRACLE: Texas was the first state to do this. We were definitely inspired by the great work that those folks did down in Texas. ... A group in Missouri has also used it in their statehouse to protest similar abortion bans and abortion restrictions in their state. This is definitely something that has kind of crept across the nation as states have gone after access to abortion most recently.
Response from listener: 'Handmaid protests were done first in Canada by Radical Handmaids. Please credit them.' <a href="https://t.co/yxduY4BYJP">pic.twitter.com/yxduY4BYJP</a>—@cbcasithappens
HELEN MANN: Why do you think that the "handmaid" protest is getting so much attention. You know we've got other groups, Code Pink on Capitol Hill — lots of other similar kinds of protest groups on issues like this. Why is this one sort of tweaking people's imagination?
JM: I think it's new and different. It hasn't really been done before. The Texas group, to my knowledge, was the first one to really use it in a kind of large scale protest.
They are amazing people who speak out all the time. So, the fact that they sat there silently — for almost two hours — was a stretch for them- Jaime Miracle
I think the silence is also a big piece. That was something we had talked about with our advocates because the women who were dressed in the handmaids costumes yesterday are some of our most vocal, outspoken activists. They're our clinic escorts. They are amazing people who speak out all the time. So, the fact that they sat there silently — for almost two hours — was a stretch for them as well. But, knowing that sometimes silence and visual can be a more powerful protest than, you know, a typical rally with signs and chants and those kinds of things.
JM: You know I actually thought about not reading it right now because I do this work everyday and it's hard to do. So, sometimes you need to escape into your books. But … it's a popular thing right now and I'm also one of those people who likes to read the book before seeing any media representations. … You know, everybody always says, "Oh, this is getting into The Handmaid's Tale territory." Reading the book, how much this really is getting into that territory. And how we really are creating these different classes of women — some of them who have control over their lives and some who very much do not.
HM: You, yourself have just started reading The Handmaid's Tale for the first time. What is it like to read that book at this particular moment in history?
JM: I actually thought about not reading right now because I do this work every day and it's hard to do. So, sometimes you need to escape into your books. It's a popular thing right now. And, I'm also one of those people who likes to read the book before seeing any media representations.
Everybody always says, oh, this is getting into The Handmaid's Tale territory ... reading the book, how much we really are creating these different classes of women — some of them who have control over their lives and some who very much do not.
HM: How likely is it that the Ohio legislature will pass this bill?
JM: We have anti-choice super-majorities in both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate. I'm sure they have the votes to get it passed.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more from Jaime Miracle, listen to the audio above.