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handmaids tale protest
via @ProChoiceOH / Twitter

Women protest anti-abortion bill by dressing as Handmaids

‘We will overthrow our commanders’

Protesters attended the first hearing of the Ohio Senate Bill 145 wearing the distinctive garb of the characters from The Handmaid’s Tale this week. The series, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, explores a dystopian future, where fertile women are forced to carry children for their male “commanders”.

A crowd of women, dressed in blood-red gowns and white bonnets, attended the US court hearing, where the bill which criminalises second-trimester abortions was discussed. The bill is supported by Republican Senators, and bans “dilation and evacuation” (D&E) termination. D&E termination is the safest method of abortion at this stage of pregnancy and requires that the cervix is softened and dilated before the foetus is removed with instruments and suction. 

The foetus is removed this way to avoid induction, which often causes great physical and emotional pain. Women can also undergo D&E without hospitalisation, meaning that it is often the preferred method. However, Bill 145 proposes to punish doctors who are willing to carry out the procedure.

Vashitta Johnson, Field and Political Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said: “Men expect women to sit back, be controlled, you know? You control our bodies, tell us what to do. I guess the significance of the Handmaids is to make them squirm in their seats.”

The hearing took place just one week after the disturbing Texas Senate Bill 8 was passed in Texas, which imposed the cremation or burial of terminated foetuses. Texas also made the move to ban D&E termination in this Bill, with Governor Greg Abbott ignorantly summarising the procedure as “tearing babies limb from limb”. 

Due to introduction of a compulsory “foetal funerals”, women in Texas are now also unable to donate tissue to scientific research, meaning that important medical research into diseases, treatments and vaccinations can no longer be carried out and foetuses are effectively wasted.

The Ohio Handmaids sat silently on the front rows of the courtroom through the hearing. They only needed to rely on the powerful statement of their attire to make sure their message was heard. “You can’t do anything to kick them out,” said Johnson. “They’re not doing anything to interrupt the committee; they’re not posing a threat to anyone.”

Though images of the Handmaids were shared on social networks, the media were banned from filming the hearing. Sandy Theis, Executive Director of ProgressOhio, spoke out against the decision. “I’m offended that in a government building, paid for by tax dollars, that’s debating a very important piece of legislation for all Ohioans, particularly women, we are not allowed to record inside that room without permission of the Chairman,” she said.

“I think if people could see how their government works, they would be much more interested in voting and engaging in government. I think that’s why those guys don’t want you to film, because they’re afraid that if the people see what they do and how they do it, they’ll vote them out.”