Here are some ways in which ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ doesn’t seem far-fetched in 2019
When Margaret Atwood’s novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” was first published in 1985, Republicans dismissed it as liberal/progressive paranoia and a smear of Christianity — insisting that they had no desire to create the type of repressive theocracy that Atwood depicted in her fictional book. But to dismiss Atwood as paranoid is to ignore just how militant the Christian Right was in the 1980s — so militant that Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, considered an arch-conservative in his day, warned that his party was making a huge mistake by pandering to extremists like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr. (of Moral Majority infamy). And “The Handmaid’s Tale,” for 34 years, has served as a cautionary tale about what can happen when the separation of church and state is attacked by religious extremists. Atwood, now 79, has been receiving more attention than ever in the Trump era — first with Hulu’s television adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and now, with a sequel novel, “The Testaments,” being released this month.
As liberal/progressive journalist Chris Hedges stressed in his 2007 book, “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America,” the Christian Right are not ordinary Mainline Protestants — they embrace a bitterly tribalist and authoritarian brand of far-right fundamentalist Christianity that has zero tolerance for opposition. And they consider President Donald Trump a staunch ally.
Here are some reasons why “The Handmaid’s Tale” doesn’t seem far-fetched in 2019.
1. The U.S. Supreme Court is now dominated by social conservatives
Although Justice Anthony Kennedy (who retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018) was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and was right-of-center politically, he was right-wing in a libertarian way. It was Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But instead of nominating a libertarian for Kennedy’s seat, Trump nominated Justice Brett Kavanaugh — who has a lot more in common with far-right social conservatives like Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia than he does with Kennedy. And with Kavanaugh now on the High Court, Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned along with other right-to-privacy decisions.
2. Dangerous back-alley abortions could become common again just as they were in the 1950s and 1960s
The end of Roe v. Wade wouldn’t outlaw abortion nationwide, but it would give individual states the right to ban abortion in all cases — even cases of rape or incest. If Roe ends, one will likely see abortion remain legal in Democratic states like California, Vermont and Massachusetts while being abolished in a long list of Republican states. Of course, outlawing abortion in Utah, Idaho or Nebraska would only end legal abortion in those red states: dangerous and illegal back-alley abortions would become common just as they are still common in countries where abortion is banned —and just as they were common in the United States before Roe v. Wade.
3. Birth control is under attack
The Christian Right’s war on sexual freedom goes way beyond its opposition to legal abortion. If the Supreme Court decides that Roe was wrongly decided, it would open the door to deciding that many other right-to-privacy rulings were wrongly decided as well — for example, 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas (which struck down anti-gay sodomy laws as unconstitutional), 1969’s Stanley v. Georgia (which says that simple possession of adult porn isn’t a crime even if the material is obscene) and 1965’s Griswold v. Connecticut. In Griswold, the Warren Court struck down as unconstitutional a Connecticut law that banned contraception for married couples — and many far-right social conservatives, including talk radio extremist Mark R. Levin, view Griswold as wrongly decided. If Griswold were overturned, states would be free to outlaw contraception.
4. Abortion restrictions have become increasingly draconian
Until Roe v. Wade is actually overturned, individual states cannot legally pass outright abortion bans. But Georgia, Mississippi and other states, in the Trump era, have passed so-called “heartbeat bills” — which prohibit abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected. And abortion right activists have been arguing, correctly so, that these “heartbeat bills” amount to abortion bans about six weeks into a pregnancy.
5. Alabama anti-abortion law lacks an exception even for rape and incest
In Alabama, the so-called Human Life Protection Act is even more extreme than Georgia’s “heartbeat law,” which at least makes an exception for rape or incest — the Alabama restriction, happily signed into law by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, doesn’t even do that. And it goes beyond the “heartbeat bills” of Georgia, Ohio and Mississippi in that it bans abortion at any stage in a pregnancy. The Human Life Protection Act is an blatant violation of Roe v. Wade, but that’s the point of it: Alabama Republicans are hoping that challenges to the law will force the U.S. Supreme Court to reevaluate Roe and strike it down.