"A real life version of The Handmaid's Tale": Why everyone is talking about US abortion laws.

This week you will likely have heard the news that some changes have been made to the abortion laws in Donald Trump’s America.

A number of US states have passed legislation that will make terminating an unwanted pregnancy illegal. This is despite the fact that one in four American women will have an abortion before they turn 45.

Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota and Missouri are just some of the states in the United States that have introduced legislation to restrict abortion rights this year.

So why is there so much focus on Alabama?

The new bill Alabama passed is the strictest anti-abortion law in the country.

Their Republican-controlled state Senate voted in favour of a bill that effectively bans all abortions, except in cases where the health of the mother is at risk.

Crucially, the new legislation allows no exemption for cases of rape or incest. This means that doctors who perform an abortion in Alabama could face up to 99 years in prison – a longer sentence than those convicted of rape.

Fears are growing that the slew of anti-abortion legislation will see Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, ultimately overturn Roe vs Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right.

So whilst, as of right now, abortion is still legal in the 50 states (as these laws are yet to take effect and need to pass through the courts), it very soon could be a different story entirely.


And that’s not something to take lightly.

In fact, right now there is an 11-year-old girl in Ohio who is pregnant, as reported by local media, after she was allegedly raped by a 26-year-old man.

The new legislation, not yet in effect, would mean that abortion is not an option for the 11-year-old rape victim. However, it’s believed she will be exempt while the laws are pending.

When Republican Governor Mike DeWine signed the anti-abortion bill in April, he emphasised the rights of the foetus.

“The essential function of government is to protect the most vulnerable among us, those who don’t have a voice,” he said. “Government’s role should be to protect life from the beginning to the end.”

What has the reaction been like?

Well, to say women are frustrated is an understatement. And the streets of Alabama have been awash with protesters.

Many likened the new legislation to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale, where fertile females are forced to breed. Women dressed in long red dresses and white bonnets described in the novel as they stood outside Alabama State House in protest.

Women’s rights hashtags have been trending on social media, as many declare this move by Republicans to be a “war on women”.


Here’s how just a few of the reactions on Twitter from some familiar faces.

A number of women are also sharing stories of their abortions on Twitter under #youknowme, in an effort to normalise the procedure. The movement, launched by late-night talk show host Busy Philipps, has inspired high-profile American women to speak up, including actors Jameela Jamil, Ashley Judd and Minka Kelly.

Why should Australian women care?

It was 25 male senators who voted to pass the Alabama legislation which concerned the female body. This demonstrates what a lack of female representation in politics can do.

It also is cause for reflection on our own abortion laws – although ours are not nearly as restrictive. In Australia, between one quarter and one third of women will have an abortion in their reproductive lifetime.

However, depending on what state you live in, access to an abortion is not always easy. In New South Wales terminating a pregnancy remains a criminal offence except in special circumstances, for example, if the mental health of the woman is at risk.

For more on this topic:

“I had an abortion when I was 15”: The celebrities coming out with their abortion stories.

“I was 14.” 5 women talk about how an abortion changed their life.

“It’s time to lift the restrictions on medical abortion in Australia.”