According to the rhetoric used by Donald Trump during the presidential debates, women can “rip” babies out of their wombs moments before birth. This imagery runs counter to current laws, which in most states allow abortions only before a fetus has reached 24 to 26 weeks. Some states outlaw abortion as few as 12 weeks after a woman’s most recent menstrual period; North Dakota’s cutoff is six weeks.
The president’s language on the issue led pro-life proponents to fear an overturn of Roe v. Wade, a law that younger women may take for granted as a basic right. But stories like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a speculative fiction book from the 1980s that’s getting adapted this year for Hulu, work to remind us that few rights are truly inalienable, and a perfect storm of circumstances could undo the freedoms of millions.
While dystopian stories like Atwood’s help readers contextualize the here and now, there’s also a stable of science fiction authors using the genre to explore possible solutions to current problems. So, we asked authors to imagine how reproductive rights could be protected, and improved, in the future. Their answers, below, include birth control injections distributed to both men and women, and socializing kids to take ownership of their own bodies.
Kameron Hurley, Hugo Award winner and author of The Geek Feminist Revolution
“’Women’s health’ is often used as a euphemism for ‘issues related to contraception and abortion.’ Certainly, there are many other health issues faced by cis and trans women alike, but it’s fertility that is often the most heavily legislated and taboo. How does technology solve a problem that is, at its core, a social problem?
“Sure, the creation of artificial wombs sounds nice, but it does not remove the reproductive function of those who do have wombs, and it doesn’t erase the social stigma that many women endure. I’m often asked why I write all-women space operas like The Stars are Legion, or imagine fantastic societies with eight different genders and wild social taboos. I do this because many of our fundamental problems as human beings won’t be solved by creating a widget. There have been all sorts of useful widgets that failed because we could not make them socially palatable (Google Glass, anyone?). But what we need to change first is the stories of ourselves, and what it possible.
“As we’ve seen over the last few months, who controls the narrative over a story has a huge impact on who creates the future. The future of women’s health does not require an artificial womb or a 100 percent effective contraceptive (though both would be nice). Instead, securing a future where cis and trans female bodies are afforded equal respect and research dollars requires a harnessing of the story of who matters. Create the story of who matters, and who is human, and the investment in the right widgets will follow.”
Meg Elison, Philip K. Dick Award winner and author of The Book of Etta
“The erosion of women’s rights to bodily autonomy begins early in life and must be approached at the root cause. We must uncouple the relationships between the body, sex, shame, and morality through compulsory education that rightly treats gender, sex, and sexuality as separate and independent subjects. We must reject all notions of the body as dirty or nudity as inherently sexual, desire as uncontrollable and unilateral or coercion as normal in intimate settings.
“This starts with granting children their own bodily autonomy; giving them the right to say no, to refuse kisses or cuddles, and never forcing them to show any kind of physical affection to anyone. This starts with toilet training kids without shame and using correct anatomical terms for their bodies. This starts with refraining from color-coding infants and projecting their entire futures and personalities based on their genitals. This starts with outlawing all circumcision, regardless of biological sex.
“None of this is unique to women or girls because women’s rights are human rights. We begin to lose them before we’re born, and the rest are given away or stolen later in life because we’ve been conditioned to believe they were never really ours to begin with. Stop that conditioning. Save girls and save the world.”
Elizabeth Bonesteel, author of the “Central Corps” series
“Throughout history, women’s health has been contentious for reasons entirely cultural. Humanity seems to have a deep, persistent discomfort with sexuality, and female sexuality in particular. While this is easing — slowly, and non-linearly — I expect we’re looking at more centuries than I like to think before we all grow up.
“As much as it seems reductive to say it, the issue revolves around women’s role in the human reproductive cycle. In order to depoliticize basic health issues, we need to get to a point where women have control over when (or if) they become pregnant, and how often. The simplest way to do this is through effective, easily-administered birth control. Despite the much-derided results of the trials of male chemical birth control, there’s no doubt we’re moving in a direction where there will be more options for everyone. As these methods become available, use will widen, and eventually they will have an effect similar to a vaccine, establishing a herd immunity against unplanned pregnancy. Eventually, accidental pregnancy will be seen as a medical failure, rather than some kind of cautionary tale — and at that point, perhaps the issue of bodily autonomy won’t be considered so controversial.”
Nalo Hopkinson, Hugo Award nominee and author of Falling in Love With Hominids
[Hopkinson offered to provide an absurdist fictional scenario.]
“Science progresses swiftly to the point where transitioning from one gender to another is a complete change which happens at the chromosomal level. 45* comes out as female, becoming the U.S.’s first woman president. Health laws suddenly become more favorable towards women.”
“*I won’t call that man the president, so I’m using the term that’s becoming the accepted one for people who feel as I do.”
Amy S. Foster, author of “The Rift” trilogy
“What could the future hold for reproductive rights? They’ve already tried (and failed) to bring a birth control injection for men to market. Too many side effects ― though they were nominal and possibly caused by other drug interactions. I have to imagine that in the future we might see an improvement on bioidentical hormones, in general, so that women of all ages could not only control when they get pregnant but menopause could be experienced with no symptoms at all. Perhaps doctors could even find a way to keep eggs viable for longer so that women could have children at a much older age ― though in this scenario, aging itself might have to be dealt with!
“I think for me, as a mother of teenage girls, I would love to see a birth control injection that lasted for years and was mandatory throughout the world. It sounds completely totalitarian, I know, but I believe that no child, anywhere, should have to deal with the fear of parenthood, the emotional upheaval of abortion, or the trauma involved in adoption. I think allowing girls to grow up before becoming mothers would truly change the cultural, emotional and economic landscape of the entire planet for the better.”