Kylie Jenner's 'Handmaid's Tale' party reveals connection between abortion rights and privilege

With enough money and enough social connections, you can buy access to a lot of things in America — from education to health care.
Image: Kylie Jenner is facing backlash for a "Handmaids Tale"-themed party.
Kylie Jenner is facing backlash for a "Handmaid's Tale"-themed party.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News; Getty Images
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By Danielle Campoamor

Much can be and indeed already has been said about Kylie Jenner, Forbes' youngest “self-made” billionaire and the baby sister of the Kardashian/Jenner clan. Like any reality television star, people seem to either love her or hate her. But no one can deny that she is incredibly privileged, a fact that was on full display this weekend when Jenner threw a “Handmaid’s Tale”-themed birthday party for her best friend, Anastasia Karanikolaou. Complete with the story’s notorious red robes and white bonnets, and themed cocktails with names like “praise be vodka” and “under his eye tequila,” Jenner’s party seemed to celebrate a (fictional) world where women are denied their basic human rights, especially their reproductive rights.

This flippant treatment of its horrors highlights a very real truth: The wealthy will always be more protected from human rights violations — and they know it.

Sure, Jenner does not actually endorse the government policies depicted in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale. But this flippant treatment of its horrors highlights a very real truth: The wealthy will always be more protected from human rights violations — and they know it.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is of particular relevance right now, of course, because of a nationwide attack on reproductive rights. In 2019 alone, 27 measures restricting abortion access have been enacted across 12 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Four states — Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio — have passed six-week abortion bans in the last five months (at six weeks, many people don’t even know they’re pregnant). Currently, six states have only one clinic that provides abortion care, and most counties in the country do not provide abortion services at all. Missouri is poised to be the first state to “go dark” and no longer have a clinic that provides abortion in the state. If this happens, it will be the first time since Roe v. Wade that a state will provide no access to this safe, common, legal medical procedure.

The way in which the constitutionally justified right to abortion care has been slowly but surely eroded at the state level is the direct result of Republican anti-abortion laws, enacted over time and for the sole purpose of gutting Roe. From targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP laws) that impose unnecessary requirements on clinics and providers in order to shut them down or severely impede their ability to provide care, to laws that ban abortion after a certain period of time with no exception for rape or incest, punishing women for not carrying the baby to term has become a cornerstone of the Republican party.

And it is working. The punishment, after all, is the point.

Women who are denied abortions and forced to give birth experience worse health outcomes than those who were able to access the care they need, according to a new study from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH). Women who are denied abortions also face three times greater odds of being unemployed, are more likely to experience economic hardship, and their children have a greater chance of living below the poverty level.

Abortion is 14 time safer than childbirth, 40 times safer than a colonoscopy, and is less likely to send women to the emergency room than wisdom teeth removals. And yet, in a country with a rising maternal mortality rate — and where black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy- and birth-related complications than white women — the government is actively trying to force people who no longer want to be pregnant to carry their pregnancies to term.

The punishment is the point.

But this punishment will never be meted out equally, a fact that perhaps has allowed women like Jenner to ignore the political reality of their world while gleefully embracing even darker worlds like Atwood’s Gilead. Anti-abortion laws disproportionately impact black, brown and poor women — the people most likely to experience an unintended pregnancy as a result of barriers to reproductive health care, including access to birth control, and are, therefore, more likely to seek out abortion services. The Hyde Amendment, a 40-year-old law banning federal dollars from funding abortions, targets those who rely on Medicaid for health care, further hurting access for poor people.

Prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade, an estimated 20 to 25 percent of pregnancies ended in an abortion, and 200 women died every year from abortion-related complications. Those numbers, of course, are thought to be higher, since people feared legal action if they sought treatment for a botched abortion. Today, medical advances have made abortions — including DIY abortions — less risky, but that doesn’t mean women won’t suffer.

Meanwhile, white people are more likely to be insured by a private insurance or an employer, meaning they will almost always have better access to health care generally and abortions specifically. The more money you have, the easier it is for you to fly across the country for boutique medical procedures. Or pay doctors off the books in an extreme scenario.

And, of course, rich white men in positions of power — like so-called “pro-life” Republican Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, who stepped down after he asked a woman he had an affair with to have an abortion — will likely have few qualms bending or even breaking the rules to pay for their sister's or mistress' procedures.

Meanwhile, white people are more likely to be insured by a private insurance or an employer, meaning they will almost always have better access to healthcare generally and abortions specifically.

With enough money and enough social connections, a lot of things are possible in America. We saw earlier this year just how true this is for education. And it is similarly true for health care.

It’s easy to say that Jenner was simply enjoying herself with her friends, celebrating an entirely fictitious show that many Americans also enjoy. It’s easy to say that she’s young and still learning and will, hopefully, do better. But she is also a mother, like the majority of women who are having abortions in this country.

A new study from Morning Consult and The Hollywood Reporter found that 17 percent of viewers believe “The Handmaid’s Tale” is rooted in some reality. And it could become even more real, depending on what laws are passed next. Jenner might not believe that she lives in a world where the government forces women to procreate against their will, but she does live in a world where many in government no longer believe a woman has total say over her body.

And I hardly believe that is worth celebrating.