6 books beyond “The Handmaid’s Tale” that explore the loss of reproductive rights


Written by Brienne WalshJacqui Palumbo, CNN

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When Margaret Atwood sat down to write “The Handmaid’s Tale” in the early 1980s, she repeatedly stopped working on it because she thought the plot seemed too “far-fetched”, as she said. wrote in the New York Times. A country born from the ruins of American society where women are forced to give birth in a Christian patriarchy? Unthinkable.
Fast forward to June 24, 2022, and Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, was overturned by the United States Supreme Court. In his opinion, Judge Samuel Alito sent the decision on the legality of abortions back to the states, about half of which quickly banned them in almost all cases, some citing language based on the religious belief that life begins at the end of life. design.
In response, Atwood recently job a photo of her on Twitter holding a mug that reads “I told you so”.

In truth, she is not the only author whose work seems to have predicted this turn of events, or to have urgently examined other ways in which people are deprived of their reproductive freedoms. Speculative and science fiction writers, many of them women, have often explored these narrative themes. Whether you’re curious where some creative minds think this path might lead or just need some literary catharsis, here are six such works to check out.

“The Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich (2017)

Set in a dystopian future, this book follows Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a 26-year-old Native American who becomes pregnant. The problem is that she lives in a society where there are signs that human evolution has begun to reverse (though the book isn’t explicit about what that means), and the US government has ceded the control to obscure organizations such as Unborn Protection. Society (UPS), which brings women together and forces them to give birth in a controlled setting so that their babies can be monitored for signs of genetic abnormalities. Cedar tries to escape this fate by hiding with her biological family on the Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota, where she was born.

Through a convoluted narrative that nonetheless moves at thriller pace, Erdrich suggests that the end of women’s reproductive rights is a sign that humanity’s time on Earth has run its course — accelerated in part by the way people have destroyed the environment. When she published the novel in 2016, she remarked to readers that she started the book 14 years earlier and came back to it with a new sense of urgency. “I only have to look at pictures of white men in dark suits deciding on critical women’s health issues to know the time is right,” she wrote.

The Future Home of the Living God Credit: Courtesy of Heather Drucker

“When She Woke Up” by Hillary Jordan (2011)

“When She Woke” centers on a society where abortions are illegal in the United States and where the country is ruled by fundamentalist Christians from Texas. Instead of imprisonment, authorities force criminals to permanently bear their punishment by dyeing the body a color that denotes their crime. For the main character, who is convicted of murder after having an abortion, it means going through life with red skin. A modern retelling of “The Scarlet Letter” – Jordan confirms the link in the book’s acknowledgments – the story examines the implications of the persecution of women for the crime of exercising their reproductive freedom.

When she woke up

When she woke up Credit: Algonquin books

The Farm” by Joanne Ramos (2019)

In Ramos’ debut novel, the author combines issues of class, immigration and reproductive freedom in a story set in a luxury upstate New York retreat where surrogate mothers are cared for with endless conveniences and receive the promise of wealth for the delivery of a healthy child. Watched for nine months and cut off from their lives, the “hosts” include Jane, a Filipina immigrant who was desperate for a fresh start but soon finds herself wanting to leave. Ramos’ harsh story of inequality, as pregnancy becomes the burden of the marginalized, is all the more urgent as freedom of choice and access to health care become increasingly divided in the United States.

Shortly after “The Farm” was published, Alabama’s restrictive abortion law was passed, banning the procedure in almost all cases. Ramos told The Guardian newspaper: “I can’t believe we’re here again.” She said her novel was meant to make readers wonder if the events she wrote about had ever happened. “I thought that was where we were today, but I moved a few inches forward.”
The farm

The farm Credit: Courtesy of Random House

“Dawn” by Octavia E. Butler (1987)

After a nuclear apocalypse, Lilith Iyapo awakens hundreds of years past her time to find herself aboard a spaceship, saved from death with other survivors and held in stasis by an alien race. His captors want to repopulate the Earth—they must also procreate with other species to survive—and they enforce all procreation no matter what the remaining humans think of interbreeding. The first book in the “Lilith’s Brood” trilogy, Butler’s vision is a distant vision of colonialism and the pressures a woman faces to revive her kind.


Dawn Credit: Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing

“Red Clocks” by Leni Zumas (2018)

Describing a world in which a personality amendment has been added to the US Constitution, making not only abortion but also in vitro fertilization illegal, “Red Clocks” sometimes eerily mirrors reproductive politics in the United States today. today. The novel follows the lives of five fictional women living in small town Oregon who struggle with how their bodies are governed, including Ro, a 42-year-old woman who wants to become a mother and is forced to try a procedure that leaves her dizzy and sick, and Mattie, 15, who realizes that if she tries to abort her pregnancy, she could be imprisoned for years.

red clocks

red clocks Credit: Petit, Brown and company

“The Future of Another Timeline” by AnnaLee Newitz (2019)

Set in the year 2022, this novel is about a different United States where abortion has been illegal for decades and humans discover time machines. One of the main characters is Tess, a secret agent for the Daughters of Harriet, a feminist time-traveling group on a mission to stop the Comstockers, a group of misogynistic crusaders who want to alter the past to further strip women of their rights. . Tess wants to restore what has been lost, including abortion protections, and does so by changing the course of history.

Newitz spoke about the parallels between the alternate reality of their novel and the current state of the United States. In a recent op-ed for Slate, they wrote, “The alternate timeline I envisioned in my novel was already unfolding in America’s official history of abortion access for everyone… All I I had to do was to describe what was really going on around me.

“In some ways, the only difference between my novel and the reality for many Americans is that my activists have access to some really cool time machines.”

Annalee Newitz

Annalee Newitz Credit: Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

Top image: Octavia E. Butler in 2004.


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