In Depth

Irish women dress as characters from The Handmaid's Tale for abortion protest

Activists copied uniforms from dystopian novel to highlight oppressive laws banning abortion

Irish pro-choice activists donned bonnets and red capes like the ones worn by characters in The Handmaid’s Tale to protest the country’s restrictive abortion laws.

Women in Ireland are currently barred from ending an unwanted pregnancy under any circumstances. In 2016, 3,265 women travelled from the Republic of Ireland to the UK to access abortion services, according to statistics compiled by the Department of Health.

Earlier this year, the Citizens’ Assembly - a committee of ordinary 99 Irish voters presided over by a judge - urged the government to amend the section of the Constitution which bars abortion.

Around 25 women gathered outside the Irish parliament, the Dail, on Wednesday, as lawmakers met to discuss the Assembly’s recommendations.

“We want pro-choice, proper legislation that will bring us compliant in human rights law along with all other countries,” protester Una Reynolds told Breaking News Ireland.

The Handmaid’s Tale, the Margaret Atwood novel recently adapted into an Emmy-winning TV drama, takes place in a dystopian near-future in which America has been transformed into a totalitarian Christian theocracy called Gilead where women’s rights have been stripped away.

In this society, “handmaids” are a class of women who serve as concubines to the elite men of Gilead. Forced to dress in the distinct uniform of white and red, they exist solely to reproduce and have no rights over their children or their own bodies.

The election of Donald Trump, who is anti-abortion and has previously suggested that women who have abortions should be “punished”, have made the themes of Atwood’s novel and its timely TV adaptation particularly resonant for women’s rights campaigners in the US.

The striking sight of women in white bonnets and scarlet capes has been seen at statehouses across the country this summer, as pro-choice activists don the outfit for eerie silent protests against state-level bills which would place restrictions on abortion. 

Pro-choice campaigners argue that these measures, which include stipulations such as requiring women seeking abortions to listen to their fetal heartbeat, are medically unnecessary and exist only to make it harder for women to access their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

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