Margaret Atwood is a prodigious storyteller. Since publishing The Edible Woman over four decades ago, the prize-winning Canadian author has received widespread acclaim. But while some of her books have been best-sellers, the truth is that you don’t need to buy one of them to see Atwood spin a fictional yarn. Instead, just watch her recent interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose.
In 1985, Atwood came out with The Handmaiden’s Tale, the story of a dystopian future where women live as second class citizens. When Rose asked her why the book remains popular, Atwood said it was due in part to “the various states in the United States who’ve enacted some quite strange legislation having to do with pregnant women.” Pressed for details, the writer asserted that “if you are pregnant and you are even suspected of possibly not wanting your baby you can be arrested and chained up to your hospital bed until you have the baby. Tennessee has just enacted legislation like that. Texas has got it. A number of them have it. And it’s all right-to-life stuff.”
Barack Obama is alleged to have said during the 2008 campaign, “You know, I actually believe my own bulls–t.” Apparently the same is true of Margaret Atwood. Contrary to her claims, pregnant Tennesseans are not being regularly chained to their beds. Bed-chaining isn’t rampant in Texas, either. Texas lawmakers have, however, attempted to defend women from unsafe abortion facilities and irresponsible providers. That effort stands in sharp contrast to Atwood’s homeland: Not only are abortions unregulated in Canada, but politicians there won’t even protect women from being coerced into having them.
Roxanne Fernando was savagely beaten to death in 2007 after refusing her boyfriend’s demands to abort their child. British Columbian Tasha Rossette was fatally stabbed for the same reason. While these stories are tragic, they’re far from unique.
Abortion is an easy way for abusive men to avoid both responsibility and child support, which is why they’ll use guns, knives, pipe bombs, and gasoline when their partners don’t comply. It’s not surprising that according to some estimates, over half of women who have abortions only do so under pressure.
In response, Canadian member of parliament Rod Bruinooge introduced a piece of legislation known as “Roxanne’s Law.” The bill would have made it a criminal offense to force or attempt to force a woman to abort. You might assume that this would be welcomed by those who label themselves as “pro-choice.”
That assumption would be wrong. Roxanne’s Law was condemned by political opponent Megan Leslie, who alleged, “If we can open that door even a crack to this idea of fetal rights — which in my opinion promotes anti-choice ideas — that has an impact on women’s rights and freedoms when it comes to the very personal decision about abortion.” The “impact on women’s right and freedoms” made by abusive men is evidently less of a concern.
If Margaret Atwood really wants to defend women then she should stop worrying about imaginary laws in Texas and start supporting legislation like Roxanne’s Law in Canada. She can also get behind ex-Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s call for a Congressional investigation of her former employer’s failure to protect women and girls from abuse. Because while the fictional oppression that Atwood writes about is frightening, the reality that women actually face is far worse.