In 1959, my mother, who loved my brother and me, was expecting another child. After much soul-searching, she decided to have an abortion. My mom had Type-1 diabetes and knew that she might not survive another pregnancy. Then, in the pre-Roe v. Wade era terminating a pregnancy was far from easy.
“I would have loved to have had another baby if I could have. It was the hardest decision I ever made,” my Mom told me years later. “It wasn’t easy to find a doctor and your Dad and I felt we couldn’t talk about it – even to close friends.”
I’ve been thinking about my Mom’s abortion story, as I’ve been reading “Red Clocks,” a stunning new novel by Leni Zumas. “Red Clocks” is set in the present in the United States. Abortion and in vitro fertilization are illegal. The “Every Child Needs Two” law is about to take effect. When this law is enacted, single women will no longer be able to adopt children. In this fictional landscape, if you go to Canada to have an abortion, you’ll run into the “pink wall.” The Canadian government under an agreement with the U.S. will arrest and extradite you.
Five, maybe even three years ago, I likely would have thought “Red Clocks” to be a brilliant, cautionary dystopia. It would have seemed a chilling depiction of what could have been if we hadn’t, since 1973, had Roe v. Wade or feminism. Now, in the Trump/Pence era, “Red Clocks” seems not only an all too-real glimpse of what the future could bring – but a depiction of a world all too close to our present reality. As many reviewers have pointed out, “Red Clocks” is “The Handmaid’s Tale” of our time. (“The Handmaid’s Tale” is the renowned dystopian 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood. It’s set in the near future where the U.S. has become a misogynistic society, governed by a right-wing, Christian theocracy.)
Why does “Red Clocks” feel so real – as if it’s story could soon become our story? Because in January the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services proposed a rule that would allow health care providers to refuse to provide abortion and other health care services to women and transgender people if it went against their religious beliefs. Also, in January, as the Blade and other news outlets reported, HHS created a new agency called the Conscience & Religious Freedom Division to help enforce laws created to protect religious freedom.
The Trump administration speaks of the new HHS division in Orwellian language. “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced,” Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement. “No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice.”
It’s ironic that Severino is concerned about guaranteeing justice for “victims of unlawful discrimination.” When he was a Heritage Foundation scholar, the Blade reported, Severino opposed having transgender people serve in the military and supported North Carolina’s anti-trans bathroom law House Bill 2.
Freedom of religion is one of the great things about this country, but the Trump administration is becoming a theocracy. The misogynistic and anti-queer HHS proposed rule and new division are a pathway to discrimination and injustice – a threat to the freedom and health of women and transgender people.
“Woke up one morning to a president-elect she hadn’t voted for,” Zumas writes of Ro, one of the characters in “Red Clocks.“
Art can put a human face on vital issues and strip away didacticism in a way that no policy debate can. If you want to understand the frightening reality of the new HHS division, read “Red Clocks.”