Feminist activists in the US are still dressing as Handmaids – and with good reason

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Moya Crockett
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Abortion rights are currently under threat in the US thanks to Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick. This week, women dressed in red cloaks and white bonnets flocked to Washington DC to protest. 

How far would you go to protect a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body?

That’s a question that has been hanging over the heads of feminist activists in the US in recent months. Thanks to a decision made by Donald Trump, women’s reproductive rights are currently hanging in the balance in the States – resulting in major protests in Washington DC this week.

On Tuesday (4 September), a dozen women dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale protested the confirmation hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who Trump has nominated for the Supreme Court. The hearing, which is taking place throughout this week, is intended to assess whether Kavanaugh is fit to be a Supreme Court judge.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, there are serious concerns about whether he will work to restrict women’s access to abortion, or even vote to overturn Roe v Wade – the landmark 1973 legislation that gave all women across the US the right to safe, legal terminations.

The staunchly conservative judge has so far refused to say one way or the other whether he opposes Roe v Wade. In August, he reportedly told Republican Senator Susan Collins that he considers it “settled law” – meaning it is a legal precedent that’s entitled to respect.

However, many pro-choice groups and Democratic politicians have warned that describing Roe v Wade as “settled law” does not necessarily mean that Kavanaugh wouldn’t vote to unsettle it, something that would be in his power as a Supreme Court judge. 

Women dressed as handmaids protest outside the hearing room where Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified 

Kavanaugh’s record also suggests he may be willing to overturn Roe v Wade in the case of a vote. Speaking at the judge’s hearing, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein pointed out that he recently blocked a ruling that would have allowed an unauthorised illegal immigrant teenager to get an abortion.

Roe, said Feinstein, isn’t just about abortion: “It is about protecting the most personal decisions we all make from government intrusion.”

CNN reports that police in Washington DC arrested 70 protesters during the hearing on Tuesday. One of those arrested was Linda Sarsour, a leader of the US Women’s March. On Instagram, Sarsour posted a photo of her being pulled out of the hearing by police.

“I will be able to tell my daughters and future grandchildren that I STOOD UP,” she wrote in the accompanying caption.

“I was not and will not be silent when our bodies and rights are on the line. Brett Kavanaugh is a direct assault on women and we are fighting back. We didn’t choose this fight, it chose us.”

Over the last 18 months, the red cloak and white bonnet worn by enslaved women in The Handmaid’s Tale has been adopted as a symbol of resistance by feminist protesters around the world. The costume denotes a world where women are denied control over their own fertility, making it a potent symbol in the debate over abortion rights.

In May, the costume designer of the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale told Stylist how moved she was that women were wearing the handmaids’ habits to protests.

“The design isn’t mine, it’s based on an amazing novel that inspired me as a young girl and now people are riffing off the costume that inspired them in a show,” said Ane Crabtree

“But I love that this oppressive design is empowering women now.

“As someone who is deeply involved in these feminist movements, I can only say that is absolute pure beauty.”

Images: Getty Images