This is an edited extract from the book ‘Burning Questions: Essays and Occasional Pieces, 2004 to 2021’ by Margaret Atwood, originally published March 2022.
Nobody likes abortion, even when safe and legal. It’s not what any woman would choose for a happy time on Saturday night. But nobody likes women bleeding to death on the bathroom floor from illegal abortions either. What to do?
Perhaps a different way of approaching the question would be to ask: What kind of country do you want to live in? One in which every individual is free to make decisions concerning his or her health and body, or one in which half the population is free and the other half is enslaved?
Women who cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have babies are enslaved because the state claims ownership of their bodies and the right to dictate the use to which their bodies must be put. The only similar circumstance for men is conscription into an army. In both cases there is risk to the individual’s life, but an army conscript is at least provided with food, clothing, and lodging. Even criminals in prisons have a right to those things. If the state is mandating enforced childbirth, why should it not pay for prenatal care, for the birth itself, for postnatal care, and – for babies who are not sold off to richer families – for the cost of bringing up the child?