Author Margaret Atwood revealed Friday that she initially put off writing her horrifying dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” because she thought it was “too far-fetched.” But after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion, she’ll never feel that way again.
“Silly me. Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?” she asked in a column published Friday in The Atlantic.
In Atwood’s novel, women in America are used as reproductive slaves, strictly governed by a theocratic dictatorship directed by men. Atwood’s model was based on 17th century New England Puritan religious rules and jurisprudence — and imported to the U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito also turned to the 1600s for justifying his leaked opinion that would gut the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal, reaching beyond the issues raised in a challenge to a Mississippi anti-abortion law. He cited several times the English jurist Matthew Hale, who opposed abortions — and executed “witches.”
The leaked opinion (which hasn’t been finalized) would “overthrow settled law of 50 years on the grounds that abortion is not mentioned ... . True enough,” Atwood conceded. “The Constitution has nothing to say about women’s reproductive health. But the original document does not mention women at all.”
Women “were deliberately excluded from the franchise,” she added, referring to the fledgling nation. Only men would no longer be taxed “without representation” or be ruled without “consent.” Women were barred from voting until 1920.
“Women were nonpersons in U.S. law for a lot longer than they have been persons,” Atwood chillingly noted. “If we start overthrowing settled law using Justice Samuel Alito’s justifications, why not repeal votes for women?”
As for banning abortion, the belief about when life begins is based on personal or religious beliefs (some religions, for example, believe life begins at birth or that a pregnant woman’s life is the existing life that must be protected).
Now, in Alito’s opinion, “That which is a sin within a certain set of religious beliefs is to be made a crime for all,” Atwood wrote. Yet the Constitution demands that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” If a religion allows abortion, how can a different religion restrict it for those with different beliefs?
“It ought to be simple: If you believe in ‘ensoulment’ at conception, you should not get an abortion, because to do so is a sin within your religion. If you do not so believe, you should not — under the Constitution — be bound by the religious beliefs of others,” Atwood argued.
The Alito opinion “looks to be well on the way to establishing a state religion,” Atwood added, and is turning back to the 17th century, when Colonial women were burned at the stake based on religious evidence.
“If Justice Alito wants you to be governed by the laws of the 17th Century, you should take a close look at that century,” Atwood warned. “Is that when you want to live?”