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'Handmaid's Tale'-Dressed Protesters Will Urge Rauner To Pass Abortion Protection

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 12, 2017 6:56PM

Photo: Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth

More than a dozen women dressed in red-robes and white-bonnets, plus their supporters, will gather at the Thompson Center on Thursday afternoon to rally in support of reproductive rights, The Handmaid's Tale-style.

Protesters around the country have been drawing inspiration from Margaret Atwood's acclaimed novel—and its recent Hulu television adaptation—about an authoritarian near-future in which women are viciously subjugated and robbed of personal agency. The demonstration in Chicago—which happens Thursday at noon, at 100 W. Randolph St.—also channels the dystopian classic, and its iconic costume scheme, to bring a potent visual punctuation as protesters urge Gov. Bruce Rauner to pass the women's-health bill HB40.

The rally will feature a coalition of women from the activist group Indivisible, in partnership with Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

Rauner has vowed to veto HB40, which has two legislative components: 1) it would get rid of Illinois' "trigger law," which would (at least in theory) make abortions illegal in the event that Roe V. Wade were overturned, and 2) it would expand abortion coverage to include women on Medicaid and state employees who opt into state health insurance.

Photo provided by Renee Wsol
For Handmaid-inspired protester Renee Wsol, a 34-year-old single mother and Medicaid recipient, both issues feel urgent. "I feel I have a vested interest," she told Chicagoist. "I know a lot of people think it's controversial, but it's important for us to speak out and talk about the benefits [of HB40]." Women could be forced to make reproductive decisions based on financial positions without such protections, she said. "Even though I do have effective long term birth control, I want to know that I don’t have to scrape every single penny I own in order to access abortion if I needed one," she said.

The correlation between Atwood's fable and the present political moment is palpable for the protesters. Atwood's vision "is kind of what we envision life may be like under a Pence administration," Wsol said. "The first time I read book, before the current administration, it seemed like something that could never happen... now the themes feel so much like the direction we could be heading in." Handmaids, in the book and series, are ritualistically raped in order to bear children for an infertile ruling class—a clear, brutal metaphor for the stripping away of women's rights.

Rauner came under a lot of fire earlier this year when he pledged to veto HB40 despite having appeared to be a nominal pro-choice advocate. (Rauner, along with his wife and the Rauner Family Foundation, had donated large sums to Planned Parenthood, and he provided pro-choice answers in a 2014 questionnaire.) Rauner's office said the sticking point was the expansion of abortion to Medicaid recipients and state employees with government insurance.

Wsol found that apparent political shift in particular most concerning. "I'm very disappointed in Gov. Rauner... But we're doing all the rallying we can to raise awareness and put pressure on him."

Or, as an Atwood-channeling protester might say: Don't let the bastards grind you down.