Maybe I’m crazy, but Hulu’s new show, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is rife with pro-life themes. Now, before pro-choicers accuse me of being a pro-life nutbag, please note I am no such stereotype. So please put away your scarlet letters.
Since I’ve been involved in politics and opinion writing, I’ve leaned firmly Left. I also identify as pro-life, although I haven’t always been. For years, I self-described as pro-choice, supporting the once-Democratic platform of “legal, safe and rare.” About two years ago I finally got honest with myself that abortion just didn’t sit well with me personally, morally, and as a human rights advocate. This change didn’t occur based on any religious ideas. Rather, it was science (the ultrasound) that directed me.
It seems that science, or the lack thereof, leads to the brutal dystopian world of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Main character Offred narrates the episodic series. In the first episode, we learn she is expecting. In revealing her pregnancy, she confesses to her best friend Moira that she is concerned about miscarrying.
The World of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
Offred’s concern is justified. As the story progresses, we learn that due to pollution, drugs, diseases, and famine, women’s reproductive systems changed, and birth rates significantly declined. Only a minority of women are fertile. Most women either miscarry, or the baby dies within a few hours of birth.
Offred is one of the minority who can carry to term. She gives birth to a healthy baby girl. But by the time Offred has given birth, the government has become a dictatorial police state. Christian fundamentalists known as the “Sons of Jacob” have amassed tremendous power. It’s a far cry from the Founding Fathers’ writing and the American Constitution that preserves our God-given rights. As Offred notes, the change began with a military coup sold as necessary to protect Americans from terrorism, then the Constitution was voided, and no one blinked an eye. That’s how democracy died.
Women are forbidden to work. Whatever money they owned was transferred to their male spouse or nearest male kin. Homosexuality is banned and punishable by death. Freedom of speech, much less freedom of religion, is forbidden. Abortion is illegal. Why would it be necessary? The majority of women are infertile.
Offred, with her husband and young child, attempt to escape this totalitarian theocratic culture but the “Sons of Jacob” are inescapable. In this world of darkness, somehow the message of purity of creation and life manifests.
Inside This Evil World, There Is Still Some Good
Even though I expected from “The Handmaid’s Tale” a story that personified feminism, a battle cry for the resistance movement, and an anthem to the importance of democracy, instead the program’s message supports an inheritance of life that enhances the plot.
Of course, there is no doubt that the Sons of Jacob are evil. Forcing the minority of fertile women into slavery and raping them is deplorable and a misinterpretation of doctrine, a fault many fundamentalist groups have made for generations. Negligence and pride result from such sordid and twisted decisions.
That said, the undercurrent is clear: a child is a blessing, not a curse. Now, I realize pro-life philosophy isn’t the intent of the story, but it nevertheless personifies that theme, albeit quietly. The Wives of the Commanders, who are infertile, long to become mothers. For obvious reasons, I don’t support stripping a birth mother of her child after giving birth. However, I cannot deny these women’s desire to become parents and not just because of the rules of the regime but because of a love for God and creation. The way they dote on newborns is proof they have hearts.
I understand the change of climate has affected these women personally. They are incapable of giving their husband a child naturally. Thus, they’ve become desperate and scared. Remember, women have no power in this new world order, and most of the higher-class women are unable to conceive. Still, just because they’re infertile doesn’t mean the desire to become a mother eventually dies. A desire doesn’t turn off with a switch; it flickers even in the dark. A part of me feels for these women because they are victims too, even though they play a role in violating women who are fertile.
Even Janine Loves Her Cruelly Conceived Baby
This leads me to the character Janine. She’s a victim of rape, yet cherishes the child that rape produced. Regardless of the situation she’s in, it doesn’t spoil her enjoyment of the baby growing in her womb. Irrespective of the situation she’s in as a victim of rape, Janine doesn’t give in to pressure to consider the baby a sin from a sinful regime of oppression.
I realize Janine’s possible mental illness sparks debate. But there is nothing mental when Janine explained to Offred why she bit the hand of the mistress who forcefully took her child out of her arms as they were breastfeeding. That was a mother bear reaction, the protector shining through. Janine is willing to do anything to protect her child, including risking her own life and living in denial thinking her abuser loves her.
I know plenty of people will think I am warped to praise Janine for finding a blessing in a child conceived in rape. I want to be clear that I’m not a religious fundamentalist. Rape is a crime, and as pro-choice advocates believe women who conceive in rape should have the right to seek an abortion. But a rape victim also has every right to make another decision besides abortion without being shamed for it.
I found Janine brave and emotionally fragile. On this subject, we have become too decentralized and too partisan. It seems women aren’t granted the right to see their child as a blessing if conceived in rape. Why is this the case if we’re supposed to be a society that supports individual thought and human rights?
The Power of a Strong Mother
Members of my party have made me feel ashamed for reminding them that the Democratic Party once was the pro-life party and its platform under Bill Clinton was “legal, safe, and rare.” Now we’re told there’s no room in the party for us. I guess purity politics won.
Janine isn’t the only character to stand firm on supporting motherhood. As the story progresses, we are taken more into Offred’s mind. We learn she is determined to find her daughter. Although Offred is enslaved and separated from her child, she hasn’t forgotten her roots; she is a mother first and foremost. Her memories of visiting the beach with her family and going to the aquarium are heartbreaking, and I pray she finds solace and vengeance on the Sons of Jacob and her rapist. (Sorry, I haven’t read the book, I only know the show.)
I’m not a mom, and as a black woman I often struggle with the idea of raising a black child amid racism and brutality. Still, that doesn’t mean I can ignore what motherhood is: unconditional love even in the darkest of times. As I watch the show, I’m reminded of that relentless love for a child. “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t just a feminist manifesto and warning against totalitarianism, it’s a pro-life story too.