When completed, my series of novels with the subtitle A Spirited Journey will trace a fictional family of American women striving for freedom and equality from 1855 to the present day. An important step toward freedom and equality was the 1965 Supreme Court decision striking down state laws that had made birth control for married women illegal. That decision gave women the ability to control the number of children they had and when they had them. It gave women the physical freedom to obtain an uninterrupted education and pursue a career.
(Read more: A Brief History of Birth Control
Now the tide is turning and birth control is being challenged, even as personhood amendments are proposed in state legislatures. As legislatures seek to limit women’s access to birth control and give more rights to the unborn, the world these laws are creating for women of the future contains chilling possibilities that make excellent fodder for science fiction writers.
In an article, “Pollution in Utero,” published in the April 2, 2012 edition of Time magazine, Alice Park writes about a research study which shows the effects of pollutants, “specifically polycylclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs),” on babies who are still in the womb. These pollutants are in car exhaust and cigarette smoke and can cause anxiety and depression in children as they grow. Exposure to these pollutants can be measured in the baby’s blood cord at delivery.
The studies were done in New York City where exposure to car exhaust is virtually unavoidable unless one lives in a plastic bubble for nine months, a fact that brings me to “What if?”—the starting point for much fiction.
What if the personhood amendment passes? What if additional laws are passed to protect the child in the womb? What if every child’s blood is tested at birth to see if any pollutant—avoidable ones like drugs or unavoidable ones like the PAHs in car exhaust—is a result of the mother’s environment? What if the existence of PAHs in the newborn’s blood results in the mother being charged with child abuse and sent to prison? What if, in order to prevent the possibility of harm to the unborn, expectant mothers are forced into segregated living in some pregnancy compound until the child is born? What if she rebels and doesn’t go and then miscarries? Will she be charged with murder? After all, the “person” she carried inside her died, and it was all her fault.
In the new world of personhood for the unborn, at what age does a female stop being a person and start being an incubator? Probably at puberty.
In half a dozen years or so, when I have brought my characters from the past of 1855 to the present of 2020 and write the above story based on “what ifs,” will it be classified as science fiction or will it be an accurate reflection of American society?