On the eve of the introduction of Conservative MP backbencher Stephen Woodworth’s anti-abortion private member’s bill, a determined group of women calling themselves the Radical Handmaids are getting together on Parliament Hill for a little “causeplay” in support of reproductive rights.
Sporting red garments and “Flying Nun” hats in an allusion to Margaret Atwood’s classic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, the Handmaids are protesting Bill M-312 as a regressive attack on women.
“The Handmaid’s Tale shouldn’t be an instruction manual,” said one young woman, who identified herself only as “OfStephen” (“Woodworth or Harper, take your pick”).
In Atwood’s novel, set in a futuristic America transformed by religious fundamentalists into the Republic of Gilead, women are judged by whether or not they are capable of bearing children and, if fertile, are enslaved to men of the ruling elite who forcibly impregnate them.
“We’re watching what’s going on in the United States with the war on women and we know the Conservatives are trying to sneak it up here,” said another OfStephen, standing in front of a display of brightly-coloured knitted uteruses.
Supporters across the country have been sending the Handmaids knitted wombs and vulvas, using patterns available on the Internet. When they have enough, the Handmaids say they will deliver the woolly parts to any MPs who vote in favour of Woodworth’s bill.
“If they want to control our uteruses so badly, they can have a womb of their own,” said OfStephen.
If it passes in the House of Commons, M-312 would create a Parliamentary Committee to revisit the question of fetal personhood. The Radical Handmaids point to the futility of reopening the abortion debate, arguing that Parliamentary resources could be better used to restore the national childcare program the Conservatives killed on their election in 2006.
“Affordable daycare for working parents isn’t on the agenda,” OfStephen said. “Apparently you have to be a fetus to matter to a Conservative.”
Julie Lalonde and Aalya Ahmad are feminist activists in Ottawa.