During the coronavirus pandemic, life imitates art in America

Elisabeth Moss in Handmaid's Tale. Photo Credit: Hulu/Jasper Savage


In the televised version of Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” one of the more horrifying scenes was seeing the character of June, played by Elisabeth Moss, being forced to wear a covering over her mouth to silence her.

It depicted the extreme measures the government was taking to subordinate women. In the fictionalized dystopian society women lost autonomy of their bodies and were made to incubate and bear children against their will.

Under the public health crisis that our global community is facing, it is hard not to draw parallels between art and life.

The measures taken to stop the spread of the COVID-19 are increasingly restrictive, and personal liberties are taking a back seat to overall safety. It is necessary and understandable, given that in New York City and governments everywhere are trying to control the spread of this viral killer.

While the precautions – like wearing personal protective masks – are understandable, what is not understandable is using the pandemic to push an anti-women agenda. Case in point is what is happening in Texas.  The state is using the rollbacks on elective surgeries to push their anti-choice intentions.

A federal judge has temporarily issued a restraining order to prevent Texas from doing, so but this only came after Planned Parenthood rang the siren and New York elected officials added their voices to the debate. The judge is expected to consider a long-term injunction on April 13.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading a multi-state coalition of attorneys generals from 18 states around the country on a campaign to have abortions during the pandemic. She filed an amicus brief supporting Planned Parenthood v. Abbott in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

“Texas and other states are using the coronavirus as an excuse to deny women their constitutional right to an abortion,” James said. “This is a full-on assault on women’s reproductive rights not only in Texas, but across the country and I will not allow any state to usurp the rights of women enshrined in the Constitution.”

NY Attorney General Letitia James takes on Texas governor. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided that abortion did not qualify as essential health care during the pandemic, unless the mother’s life is at risk. In so doing, he is forcing women to carry to term an unwanted pregnancy like the Handmaids.

Unfortunately, other red states including Ohio, Alabama, Iowa and Oklahoma, have similarly categorized abortions as nonessential and tried to order clinics to postpone procedures until the crisis is over.

Ironically, as another example of art imitating life, the Handmaids were forced to wear red cloaks to signify their role as breeders, not humans with autonomy.

Getting basic health care is difficult enough in these trying times given the fear of going out and spreading the virus and economic difficulties with the loss of income and insurance. Undermining reproductive freedoms is politicizing even further a highly personal decision that needs to only be made between women and their doctors.

While everyone is mindful about disease precautions, we need to be equally mindful about protecting women’s lives. We do not want to end up living in a dystopian society in which the government encroachment into our bodies is ordinary.

Andrea Della Monica is a former Media Relations Specialist of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

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