(Illustration by Holly Stapleton)
Diamond Bar High School

Opinion: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and the abortion debate

The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood describes the dystopian world of the main character, Offred, who lives in a society that divides women into the categories of “Wives” and “Handmaids.”

In the plot, Offred’s perspective as a Handmaid offers a closer look at how women are oppressed and forced against their will to bear children for the elite in the society, as the majority of the women in that society are sterile. Handmaids are the only fertile women, and thus those in power force them into a life of slavery.

In the present society, some parallels can be drawn between the current abortion debate and the conditions in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In the ongoing debate, there are two opposing positions: the pro-abortion and pro-life sides.

Offred’s society is an example of an extremist pro-life government, where fertile women are forced to be impregnated and have children, just as pro-life activists want to force pregnant women to carry their fetuses to term regardless of the circumstances, such as rape. In both the fictional world of Offred and the real world of pro-life activists today, the woman has no choice. 

In Atwood’s dystopia, Offred is one of society’s Handmaids, forced to reproduce, even though she does not want a baby. She is regularly raped by the Commander she has been assigned to for the sole purpose of impregnating her to reproduce for him and the state.  

In their dystopia, the Handmaid is a slave and vessel for reproduction, even forced to die for the birth of the baby if needed. She fundamentally has no choice or control over her own body. 

Similarly, due to pro-life activists, according to the Kansas City Star, a law was passed in 2019 in Missouri for women to receive medically unnecessary pelvic exams before their abortion and requiring doctors to remind women that they are taking human lives with an abortion.

Since then, organizations such as Planned Parenthood have sued the state, arguing for the abolishment of such unreasonable demands that purposely make it difficult for a woman to receive an abortion. 

Although the women seeking abortion in Missouri are not total slaves of the state like Offred is, the fact that they cannot obtain the abortion they seek simply means their ability to decide for themselves what happens to their own bodies is being limited. If this limiting of women’s choice and control over their own bodies is allowed, it sets the stage for women to lose even more rights.

The danger of our current society transforming into one like Offred’s society that enslaves women and their bodies for the sake of reproduction is illustrated in another special case in 2018, which sparked controversy because it involved a teenage rape victim, as reported in Vox.

Raped and unwillingly impregnated in her passage to America, when she requested an abortion, obstacles were put in her way to prevent her from getting her abortion done in time, since, according to existing laws, she wouldn’t be able to have an abortion after a certain period of time during her pregnancy. 

Those who were trying to delay this teen from having the abortion she had a right to were basically trying to force her to carry her pregnancy from rape to term, which is exactly what would be expected of Offred should she be impregnated while raped by the Commander and her society. 

The controversy over abortion between pro-life advocates and pro-choice supporters shows no sign of abating any time soon. However, given the real-world examples in current events discussed that mirrors Offred’s story, Atwood offers a tale of caution, and as we move forward on this debate, we must be careful not to fall into a dystopia like the one Handmaids live in, where women lose all control over their own bodies.