Saturday, November 15, 2014

Orphan Black, Margaret Atwood and a Woman's Right to Choose

Tatiana Maslany as Orphan Black

From time to time, one of my loyal readers tells me I should write a book.  In my healthy fantasy life, I actually write one.  In real life, I don’t have an outline or even a paragraph.

We are great fans of the BBC TV series Orphan Black. In a near future world, a young woman discovers she is a clone and has 6, or is it 8, clone-sisters roaming the planet.  The evil mega-corporation that invented them has a patent on their DNA and seeks to control the outcomes of their reproductive lives.  It’s terrifying for the clones, as you can imagine.

I am a fan of novels that extrapolate social trends into a near future world.  Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood have demonstrated mastery of the genre and have written some of the most fascinating books of the 20th Century. 

In my head, my novel would focus on a near-future world in which women are rounded up and forced to give birth through cesarean section to satisfy the moral code of the men that run society.  It would be terrifying. 

Then, my wife sent me an op-ed piece from the New York Times.  As it turns out, my would-be novel would not be a work of fiction.  Women are being rounded up today and being forced to give birth through cesarean section to satisfy the moral code of the men that run society.  It’s terrifying.

Somehow, laws that purportedly intend to preserve the right to life are being used to deprive women of their freedom – not of choice – I mean their physical freedom.  They are being jailed.

The most egregious example might be that of a pregnant, terminally ill woman in Washington, DC who was forced by a judge to undergo a cesarean section in spite of the risk to her life.  Neither she nor the baby survived the procedure.

A one time, off-the-wall example?  No, it’s not.  A pregnant Iowa woman who fell down a flight of stairs was arrested for attempted fetal homicide.  I recall that my ex-wife tripped and fell on our lawn when she was very pregnant.  I wonder…  If that happened today, would she be arrested?  (The twins are doing fine, BTW.)

A Louisiana woman was locked up on manslaughter charges when she showed up in a hospital with vaginal bleeding. It turns out she was having a miscarriage.  She spent a year in jail before it all got straightened out.

The authors of the Times article have published a peer-reviewed study documenting 413 such cases.  More than half of the incidents occurred in the South. Eighty-six percent of the women were charged with a crime – 74% with a felony.

Margaret Atwood’s award winning book, The Handmaid’s Tale (later made into a movie starring Natasha Richardson in the title role), foretold a society where most women were made barren by pollution.  Those who could reproduce were forced into sexual slavery as “handmaids” who would give birth on behalf of wealthy couples.  The culture envisioned by Atwood was a mix of Old Testament dogma and misogyny.  It was terrifying.

Has the near future envisioned in Atwood’s novel arrived?

There is an ongoing effort in many states to define the “personhood” of a fetus as having the same rights as a child that has been born or an adult who has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  This initiative is part of the political campaign to criminalize abortion.

The women who are being arrested and forced into a medical procedure they don’t want are not women choosing an abortion.  Yet, they are subject to a loss of their freedom at the hands of people who pretend to stand for liberty and a free society.

That most of the people involved in the decision to deprive these women of their freedom are men is no coincidence, in my opinion.  Still, I wonder how the legislators who make these laws, the sheriffs who arrest these women  or the judges who make these decisions would react if the woman in question was their own daughter.  Would they treat someone they love in the same way?

I doubt it.


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