ILU-486: Required Reading for Every Woman in this Country

I just read this short story by Amanda Ching, and I’ve been rendered speechless. Not only is it a brilliant piece of writing — funny and poignant — but it is also frighteningly prescient.  By my estimation we’re maybe 10 to 20 years away from this sort of dystopic existence. It scares the shit out of me.

Summary: In the not-so-distant future of Virginia, the Personhood Act has outlawed abortion and chemical birth control. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, though.


 for Evil Dr. Em and the twitter brigade

Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? James 2:25

About fifteen percent of Merrimack, Virginia was unemployed, but by god, they had congressmen looking out for them. It was comforting, one could have thought as they sat in the dim light of the living room and flipped through the government channels to watch lawmakers burn the midnight oil and make more laws.

“In this desensitized society, there is a shortening list of things that criminals consider punishment,” droned Representative Carter, a white man from Maryville. “They’re better fed in jail than they would be out on the streets. We give them free educations, money for working. We give them health care.”

One of these aforementioned unemployed people was Penelope Gallagher, a tall thin woman with a horsey face and a nervous twitch in her eye whenever she heard the sounds of a congressional meeting on the television. There was a certain crackle in the back of the recording, like a thousand hissing cockroaches.

“If jail isn’t a deterrent, then we need punishments that will work. Punishments that are effective.”

Her husband was asleep in front of the set, supine and sprawled on the recliner. There should have been something on the TV worth watching, but that seemed so old-fashioned now. Penelope tried to remember when television was for fun. These days every time she stared at the screen, she just wanted to stab something.

“Passing Proposal 404—the Punitive Display Edict is the first step in reclaiming our streets, our state, and eventually our country.”

She stood, turned off the set with a click and listened to the sound of the house, quiet creaking, the heater blower, and her husband’s soft snore. Then she opened the front hall closet, pried up the boards in the floor under the row of galoshes and pulled out the black bag she’d hidden in there. She covered her face and hands with the black knit gloves and mask she had stashed there, shrugged on the sack, zipped up her coat and boots and was out the door.


Kayleigh Bent had a full backpack. She ran down an alley towards the park with the jungle gym, her boots barely making any noise on the concrete. Just once, she wished that she could swing from rooftop to rooftop like Batman or something. Alas, that was something she would never master.

It would have been cool, though.

Her team met in the darkness behind the closed middle school. The few floodlights back there had been strategically broken and lazily never replaced. Kayleigh had heard that P. had shot them out with a BB gun, but she’d never asked. One of the rules was that you didn’t know much about the other people, so if you got caught you couldn’t tell much.

Kayleigh hid behind a dumpster and smoked a cigarette. Her mom hadn’t figured out yet that she was sneaking out, but she had caught her stealing smokes. She was down to her last pack, and she didn’t know when she’d get any more. They only sold them to men and women who carried nonbirthing cards.

The headlights of the van cut across the parking lot when it pulled into the back of the school. Kayleigh stayed where she was until the lights flicked on and off a few times, and she knew it was her ride. She ditched the smoke, pulled on her cotton gloves and ran for the van, which only slowed enough for her to jog alongside it.

“Hey,” G. said as she rolled open the side door. P. waved in the driver’s seat. “Busy night tonight.”

Kayleigh slung her pack into the van and they trucked off into the night. Her heart started to thud in her chest like a runaway drum set. G. was laying out a suction set, just in case. P. turned out onto the street and mumbled something under her breath, probably the address of where they were going.

“How are you guys?” Kayleigh asked, kicking her backpack under the passenger seat of the van. The rest of the van aside from the driver’s seat was devoted to medical equipment and pharmaceuticals—if they were ever stopped by the police that would be the end of them all.

G. held up an IV bag of something and read the label. “Oh, you know, just another day in paradise.”

(read the rest)

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23 replies
  1. 1
    Little Boots says:

    ABL? I love ABL.

    thought you’d left this lovely site?

  2. 2
    Little Boots says:

    so, just you and me.

    can I ask what happened?

    no prolly not.

    just glad you’re back.

  3. 3
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    The Personhood Act was terminated in its embryonic stage and Virginia is the 5th most liked state in the United States.

  4. 4
    Yutsano says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: My birth state wins. Suck it haterz. :)

  5. 5
    Martin says:

    We’re the least liked state, but that’s probably because we’re arguably bluer now than Massachusetts is.

  6. 6
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Martin: I have never been called for a survey. I think I would have hung up once I realized I would have to go through all fifty states.

  7. 7
    Karen says:

    I live in Maryland and I’ve never been so happy to be here and not the next state over and I don’t mean Pennsylvania. I’ll read the rest of the story but I still say the book “A Handmaiden’s Tale” is more terrifying. It was written in the 80s yet in this crazy insanely right wing society where the Teachurch party runs the GOP and the rights to vote are being curtailed for more and more people, I can see this happening…I just hope I’m dead by that time.

  8. 8
    Jager says:

    Sent it to my 2 granddaughters, both daughters and 3 nieces. (and to my wingnut brother in law)

  9. 9
    Mouse Tolliver says:

    Has this video of Martin O’Malley vs. Bob McDonnell gone viral yet? It’s halfway down the page. O’Malley was on fire. McDonnell was the incredible shrinking man. I like the part at about 3:33 in where O’Malley talks about what happens when you put Republicans in charge. If it hasn’t gone viral yet, it needs to because it’s a template for how Democrats should act.

  10. 10
    gnomedad says:

    @Little Boots:

    thought you’d left this lovely site?

    That was ABL. This is ABL 2.0. Pay attention. :)

  11. 11

    I love love love love LOVE that a SHORT STORY has engaged the blogosphere this way. I’ve said all along that liberals win through the culture: writing and film and music and art. And here’s a perfect example of it.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  12. 12
    YellowJournalism says:

    Wow. Just wow.

  13. 13
    YellowJournalism says:

    If this story catches on enough, armbands like the ones worn in the story would make excellent forms of peaceful protest in conjunction to those silent protests like the one in Virginia.

  14. 14
    Violet says:

    I’m only halfway trough it and I’m crying. I FUCKING HATE REPUBLICANS. My body is my body. Fuck them.

  15. 15
    Lizzy L says:

    I’m 66. I remember what it was like to get an illegal abortion. The phone numbers were passed from woman to woman. There were passwords. You were taken to the place in a car, blindfolded. You had to trust that the person doing the procedure had some medical knowledge, that the instruments were sterile, that the drugs you got, if you got any, would keep you from screaming, that you would not bleed out on the table, that you were safe. Sometimes, you were not. There was no follow up care — if something went wrong, you got to a hospital, if you could.

    The writer of this story has captured the flavor and feel of that very well.

  16. 16
    Frivolous says:

    Scary. Spooky. Thanks for posting the link.

  17. 17
  18. 18
    YoohooCthulhu says:

    Sounds like Romania under Ceausescu.

  19. 19
    YoohooCthulhu says:

    To add more: for anyone that thinks this crazily dystopian or impossible, pretty much the same thing happened under Ceausescu in Romania in the late 60s

    “The government’s enforcement techniques were as bad as the law. Women under the age of 45 were rounded up at their workplaces every one to three months and taken to clinics, where they were examined for signs of pregnancy, often in the presence of government agents – dubbed the “menstrual police” by some Romanians. A pregnant woman who failed to “produce” a baby at the proper time could expect to be summoned for questioning. Women who miscarried were suspected of arranging an abortion. Some doctors resorted for forging statistics. “If a child died in our district, we lost 10 to 25 percent of our salary,” says Dr. Geta Stanescu of Bucharest. “But it wasn’t our fault: we had no medicine or milk, and the families were poor.”

  20. 20
    ABL 2.0 says:

    @YellowJournalism: that’s a really good idea.

    @YoohooCthulhu: wow. great link. thanks.

    @Little Boots: hi boots! i’m the upgraded version of ABL. :)

  21. 21
    Naive and Sentimental says:

    This is a really well done short story, thank you for linking.

    It reminded me of a similar work called ‘A Birthday’ by Esther Friesner. You can find it in an anthology of her short stories called Death and the Librarian.

  22. 22
    Jennifer says:

    I’m 33. I hope my fertility runs out before we get this far.

  23. 23

    […] like The Handmaid’s Tale and inspired by recent events in Virginia, has been sweeping the blogsphere. It’s being called “frighteningly prescient” and “The […]

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