When the cast and crew of The Handmaid’s Tale began shooting the fifth and final season back in February, the show was still squarely (if tenuously) in the realm of fiction. Now, when the TV show airs later this year, it will seem far more realistic to the millions of Americans watching in horror as the United States Supreme Court prepares to overturn Roe v. Wade.

No, Gilead hasn’t broken away from the rest of the United States (yet), but the attack on reproductive rights and freedoms it represents is well underway.

The decision to repeal Roe v. Wade will activate so-called “trigger laws” banning abortion immediately in at least 13 states, with nine others already having pre-Roe laws on the books. As The Atlantic reported, “many of these state bans contain no exceptions for rape or incest survivors,” while in Texas, it will soon be a felony for any doctor to perform an abortion for a person who was raped or impregnated by a family member if the conservative justices on the Supreme Court get their way.

In the reddest of red states like Louisiana, legislators are even looking to treat both the people providing and receiving abortions as murderers.

Alt-right propagandist and conspiracy theory enthusiast Jack Posobiec nodded to the connection between the show and America’s emerging reality in a recent tweet, which replaced the states on America’s map that have restrictive anti-abortion legislation on the books with an image of the handmaids and their iconic outfits. “Soon,” he wrote.

Being able to predict the future is a nice feather in Margaret Atwood’s already impressive professional cap, but this surely isn’t the outcome she wanted when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale nearly four decades ago. But as Atwood made clear in a 2018 interview, her book wasn’t so much speculative fiction as a reminder of what human beings have already done — and are therefore capable of doing again.

“I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist,” she said. “The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights — all had precedents, and many of these were to be found, not in other cultures and religions, but within western society, and within the ‘Christian’ tradition itself.”

The parallels between her book and the reality that’s unfolding in the United States today are both stunning and stark. Canada, for example, is suddenly being seen as a safe haven for Americans looking to flee an increasingly repressive regime, one that seems more determined with each passing day to control what happens with their bodies.

The reference to a “domestic supply of infants” on page 34 of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion reads like it was drawn from one of the pages in Atwood’s novel. And the enabling incident behind the dissolution of the fictionalized United States, a Reichstag-esque fire at the U.S. Capitol, could easily have happened on Jan. 6, 2021.

Opinion: The parallels between The Handmaid's Tale and the reality that’s unfolding in the United States today are both stunning and stark, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #RoeVWade #ReproductiveRights #ReproductiveJustice

It’s clearly tempting for some pundits to suggest this analogy is overblown and that the U.S. is nowhere close to the dystopia that’s described in The Handmaid’s Tale. Conservative columnist and pundit Andrew Sullivan even suggested the demise of Roe v. Wade will mark a positive turning point in American life and the beginning of the end of the political polarization that Roe apparently kick-started.

Fat chance. If anything, it will embolden state and federal Republican legislators and the fundamentalist Christian voters whom they are beholden to. They have a long list of potential targets, from the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage to the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that invalidated sodomy laws and legalized same-sex sexual activity. And while those targets may have been out of reach before, the imminent demise of Roe v. Wade will almost certainly change their calculus.

That’s why now, more than ever, we should listen to Margaret Atwood.

In an edited extract from Burning Questions, her recently released collection of essays, published in The Guardian over the weekend, Atwood made it clear that we’re much closer to the world portrayed in The Handmaid’s Tale than we might like to admit.

“No one is forcing women to have abortions,” she wrote. “No one either should force them to undergo childbirth. Enforce childbirth if you wish but at least call that enforcing by what it is. It is slavery: the claim to own and control another’s body, and to profit by that claim.”

Slavery in America is hardly a new concept. But the version Atwood describes is part of America’s possible future, not its past. If Americans want to keep The Handmaid’s Tale in the realm of fiction, they’ll need to channel their inner June Osborne and start fighting back.

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So is the ruthless righteousness of "true believers" undeniable and glaring enough NOW to finally crack the bedrock tolerance for religion? A tolerance that has enabled it to not only get a lock on education (get'em while they're young) but to now firmly embed it in government as well, i.e. the state; what happened to "separation of church and state," the solution where you can knock yourself out with whatever rituals or beliefs you want, but they have to remain private, or confined to your "club" or church, already publicly subsidized after all. But no, that and the schools hasn't been enough for the "devout" because their "faith" isn't just a benign thing it turns out; it has teeth.
The utter pervasiveness of belief in all its iterations in every human society obviously explains how we got here and is exemplified by the fact that even in the Handmaid's Tale, the handmaids themselves are all believers but theirs is simply a more reasonable "interpretation" don't ya know, i.e. not "extreme." The fact that people like Putin are also believers is always brushed aside. (The deep, constant contradiction of this is brilliantly captured in the Korean movie "Sunshine" btw.) This of course also sails right over the top of the fact that seriously positing a GOD (ALWAYS male coincidentally; it's almost like some guy came up with this whole idea) and heaven as REAL in the first place, the central idea of all religion, is the very definition of extreme.
I mean, if you're fortunate enough to have NOT been indoctrinated as an impressionable child (Hitchens was right, it's child abuse, like the Santa myth except you never have to give it up ), which means looking on objectively and clearly from outside the cult or club, religious delusion is actually a textbook case of mental illness. In the Calgary Atheist Society there is an ongoing group who meet to cope with life without religion, people who need to be basically "de-programmed."
What we should all be openly revering now, besides our natural world, is the truth. It's all we really have.
Religion is arguably the first and the worst "big lie" and should be treated as such.


I am essentially in agreement with what you say. As a retired English teacher I have long wished that for starters we could use words more accurately. When it comes to 'belief".....we believe things we want to be true, when we can't find sufficient evidence to prove they are true, or to bring these beliefs into the arena of fact.

And having beliefs would be okay with me.......if you acknowledge that you believe because you don't know...or at least so far, haven't been able to prove your inclinations.

But oh no......believers, and not all of them adhere to religions per say....believers act as if Belief is somehow superior to Evidence....perhaps because it comes from their deep desires and doesn't demand of them any research or justification.

Right wing fundamentalists of all religious stripes love having authority without knowledge. But this preference for what is unproven, unknowable, or mere fantasy speculation is widespread in today's society. People who claim to be Spiritual but not Religious indulge in the belief game too.......and wherever this pure knowing beyond any evidence exists, it paves the way for the kind of intolerance and violation of human rights we see rising in the fascist states of America.
We should call it out when ever it raises its sanctimonious head.

True. No one is more defensive than those who aren't entirely certain themselves, and it's why believers cling together in groups, for the reassurance and affirmation, and just look at the amazing buildings erected in service to the idea! The most fabulous in the world.
But it actually requires a fair bit of effort to maintain the god idea in your head, the only place it actually exists after all, and if we think back to the Santa world most of us lived in and loved as children, we didn't want to give it up. Not coincidentally, I have found many religious people are also quite childish, have simply refused to "grow up." But reality has this way of intruding with distracting regularity so the more affirmations the better, so schools based on that entirely incompatible premise (indoctrination versus education) are a good start, but the public affirmation and power of government are the ultimate. So here we are; given an inch they have taken the mile. Time to openly marginalize religion like Quebec is doing, and with their decades of Catholic rule, they know whereof they speak. Everyone slags them for their insistence on secularism in public life, but they're right.

Make no mistake the Conservative Parties in Canada have been and are playing the Long Game. Get power, appoint social conservative judges (by definition incompetent ones, see Knees together judge), once you have a majority on the bench then pass legislation to reduce Human Rights. This is the Elite of the Conservative Party's plan (Pius Manning & Heir Harper). However, the grassroots Evangelical Christian Fascists have taken control over the ridings and will push for action at the provincial and federal level.

Indeed, conservatism, the political philosophy probably as old as our species itself, plays a long game: the preservation of traditions by which the organic community lives and reproduces. It’s problem has always been affecting change when those traditions—usually only a few of the whole collection at a time—no longer serve their purpose. Conservatism has persisted for so long because for a very, very long time the archive of traditions, the ‘DNA’ of culture, needed only a little periodic tweaking without upsetting communitarian structure: thus there have been at least as many kinds of conservatism as there have been distinct ecosystems and their matching human cultures.

We were pretty much all the same, primitively, for tens, if not hundreds of millennia—getting our livings as nature allowed, reproducing more or less as tradition dictated, and dealing with community members who would liberate themselves from plodding sameness as a temporary phase of individual development, or adolescence, again in a traditionally proscribed way. Obviously things have changed for us humans, and since we changed the natural world, gradually quickening the pace, the business of what traditions to keep, what to tweak and, least wanted, which to abandon—a contingency of unwanted but unavoidable calamity—became progressively harder because it isn’t the nature of conservatism to change—that is, it’s not really human nature.
(Eric Hoffer’s 1963 “Ordeal of Change” is still a worthy study of this phenomenon.)

It’s debatable when conservatism began to require extraordinary measures for keeping its “prime directive” to preserve traditions which inform the persistence of a culture—an operating manual, as ‘t were. Perhaps it began when the number and diversity of game dwindled inversely to the growth and spread of human population. Or maybe when urban cultures necessitated keeping records, slaves, and armies, or maybe somewhere in between, but it was always in reaction. The fine art of mythology soothed society that traditions required for its survival were being properly preserved. It’s not for nothing that bureaucracy is said to exist in order to make more bureaucracy, for not only does it become a tradition itself—that is, it becomes useful fuel for its own engine—, its orderly, discrete intercourses are especially needed when, say, a despot’s whim needs mythological rationale. No single sage can compose the kind of plausible reassurance of order and security cher society of fragile happiness will accept.

Perforce, conservatism, like other communitarian ideologies (socialism, anarchism, communalism, &c), was against liberalism, so no matter how appropriate of the despot’s whim, or how great the urgency of emergent circumstance, it can never be sold to society as something wholly novel—even if it is—the plan of action and muster of popular support must have traditions venerable enough to be worth protecting and to provide insight into challenges —even if the myth making team has to just make it up. The tropes of an heroic age threatened or thwarted, of victimhood and justifiable revenge, and belief in the superiority of society’s united action derive from this necessity, this devolution from primitive egalitarianism into plutocracy and elitism which stands ready to prove old traditions are being preserved—lo!—law, liturgy, ritual and prayer!—but to provide as many new ‘old traditions’ as are needed in the circumstance. Voila, conservatism was itself preserved, despite a world which was changing faster and faster—the hardest thing for traditionalists.

Today, the partisan right is the most extreme political philosophy—or, better said, ‘belief’ because religious myth is one of the most effective traditions to refer to in this, humankind’s most extreme time of challenge: ecological degradation so bad it’s got its very own epoch named after it—“The Sixth Extinction.” In such extremis, liberalism is cast as the greatest of Satans whether by conservatives in the Philippines, India, Europe, or the Americas. Accordingly, there is nothing new to be done, even though it ain’t news that new is still the newest new; there is nothing to be done about climate change, even if one believes it’s real, because climate has always changed—even science says so. And so forth. The neo-right (they hate that label) plays its cards with its own, ancient deck, and since the pace of change compelled conservatism to tweak itself beyond recognition long ago, to damn itself today by quoting the Bible because, hey! —it’s there (“subdue the living Earth.” Gen.1:28), and, ironically, to surrender to liberalism—yes, for a few hundred years by now, but for the last forty, to prostitute itself to libertarianism—an hypocrisy of pious perversion that amply fills out the fascist uniform. (Hoffer’s “True Believer” delves into this phenomenon—and it was written in 1951!) Far-right demagogues gin the masses with archaic brimstone on behalf of a tiny number of elites, neoliberals all who, if they pray at all, it’s for the taxlessness of the profits. The venerable conservative institution remains only as the harlequin of chivalry did, centuries after jousting had become for sport rather than for real lives.

I’m inclined to think that a lot of prognoses about the dying neo-right are like Atwood’s book—sufficiently trimmed of detail so the devil doesn’t tangle the tread of textual novel and, like needed myth, gives us meaning—even as the world churns on in all its sordid, chaotic and increasingly inhospitable minutiae. Big change is here whether anyone or everyone prays it’s not. And practically anyone can just make up anything they want. At some point, Q-Anon followers will find nothing at the end of their black-and-white rainbow. Myth always had to equate at least a little bit to human experience—but today’s right Is absurdly detached from reality. In other words, it has lost its ability to preserve myth and, therefore, conservatism itself. The problem is the thing it’s become can still make a mess, even if just for a short while. That’s what nuclear detente was all about. Underline “was.”

Conservatism, the political primate, isn’t designed to survive in a world of rapid environmental degradation—but neither is the human primate. Covid, which is merely one of many emerging symptoms of ecological disruption, is mild compared to challenges that we now no longer need to foresee, but it incited disturbing reaction—basically a failing grade. Inevitably testings will present necessities that will be met by the vast majority. It sure doesn’t look like it will be far-right SoCons—less’n they can all fit in Montana and Greater Idaho. I believe that the earth has come to a critical turning point for which conservative traditionalism is maladapted. But I know, I know, I know —SoCons don’t do evolution, they prob’ly ain’t comin out the other end.

Brilliant analysis Geoffrey, very well written.
Quite simply there is the open-minded versus the closed, and the battle lines are now clearly drawn in this culture war to end all culture wars. Putin's incongruous to the point of baffling old world aggression in Ukraine strikes me as a metaphor for it all, and is truly cheering because of the solidarity of us liberals rallying behind a charming comedian who has a skit where he plays piano with his penis!

“Alt-right propagandist and conspiracy theory enthusiast Jack Posobiec nodded to the connection between the show and America’s emerging reality in a recent tweet, which replaced the states on America’s map that have restrictive anti-abortion legislation on the books with an image of the handmaids and their iconic outfits. “Soon,” he wrote.”

Yes, but, regardless of the alt-right leaning the author ascribes to him, did Posobiec write “soon” in anticipation, dread, or just to be provocative?

“…a Reichstag-esque fire at the U.S. Capitol, could easily have happened on Jan. 6, 2021.”

I might be naïve, but I’d like to hear from a historian of note on the parallels. Does the author have a reference to a book or article that includes that specific (i.e. Reichstag) comparison? From the little I know, I tend to believe that Hitler’s side was much more organized and committed than is Trump; I still harbour the possibility (but admit that I might be totally wrong) that this whole chapter – up to the potential crumbling of his country -- is all a misanthropic (even toward his base; maybe, particularly(?), the evangelical Christian community), narcissistic lark for him.

The author’s point about the shrinking distance to such a dystopian finish line I’m more willing to go along with. I, too, read Atwood’s recent words in The Guardian (and I’ve just finished watching season 1 of the show). I sometimes wonder whether it might be best for the “thinking” states to cleave off a few states in the SE, give them their Gilead, and pay for the relocation of those who don’t want to be a part of it. Either that or actively change the current paradigm of rapacious – of both humanity and the rest of the ecosphere -- capitalism that has left, in its wake, the economic basket-case referred to as Fly-Over Country. In fact, make that change to “the system” regardless.

Just as a recommendation for those who haven’t watched, the two streaming series – The Handmaid’s Tale and The Man in the High Castle – are both excellent and complementary in their dystopian visions.