By Lily Smith
As an English Literature student at Plymouth University I have the opportunity to read and study a wide variety of books and genres. We’re taught to analyse, look for the deeper meaning, examine the context. This year I’ve taken a module called ‘Apocalypse and the Modern World’ and enjoyed it so much it became a starting point for my dissertation.
Consequently, I’ve recently been reading a lot more apocalyptic texts, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel is set in the apocalyptic setting of the Republic of Gilead. Fertility rates have plummeted ‘past the zero line of replacement’ and so-called Handmaids (fertile women) have been placed in the homes of those deemed worthy to reproduce. I cannot recommend this book highly enough; Atwood’s writing is sublime and the topic so interesting and scarily accurate in our ever-changing political climate. Atwood’s clever style of writing gives us glimpses into the laws and ways of Gilead in which abortion has been outlawed and those who go against authority are subjected to public punishments and shaming.
Is anything sounding familiar? I’m the first to admit I’m not exactly politically minded but I don’t think the recent US abortion ban has passed many of us by. Five American states including Alabama and Georgia have recently banned abortion to some degree; removing the right for a woman to make a decision about her own body. The abortion ban is based on pro-life arguments in which the “baby’s” right to life is considered before the circumstances of the pregnancy and the wants of the woman. This has of course sparked debate on at what point a fetus should be regarded as a human life and has resulted in various bans being more or less extreme than others. Alabama is seen as having one of the most extreme bans, with doctors who perform abortions facing possible charges of 99 years of imprisonment.
Abortion was made legal in most US states in 1973 (via Roe v. Wade), meaning that abortions rights in the US have been recognised for a noticeably short time period spanning less than 50 years. Human rights group Amnesty International conducted an independent poll and found that 73% of Americans support the right to obtain an abortion and therefore disagree with the ban. This sentiment can be witnessed by many people my own age via their social media platforms.
Such widespread disapproval leads to the question: how have these laws been passed? The Washington Post suggests that abortion bans have been spurred on by evangelical supporters (who made up a majority of Trump’s election votes) and the appointment of pro-life judges. Much of Atwood’s novel hints at a religious precedent leading to its apocalyptic setting, which scarily mirrors debates within the US. Are we, therefore, living in our very own apocalypse? An apocalypse shaped by the political climate and shifts in those in positions of power and decisions.
Perhaps more importantly, we should be asking what we can do to help. Abortion is not just an issue debated in the US but discussions are taking place closer to home in Northern Ireland and across the globe. Ultimately every woman should have the freedom to make a decision about her own body. By supporting groups such as Amnesty International and the Centre for Reproductive Rights we can create a conversation, be heard and demand a response.
You can find out more about these groups here: