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Margaret Atwood delivered a searing indictment of Republicans working to ban abortion at the Santa Fe Literary Festival on Saturday.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is payback for MeToo,” she said, adding that banning abortion would create an environment in which “you get to accuse people of having abortions” as a form of blackmail. Anyone can approach a woman of child-bearing age and say: “You had one, and then where’s my $10,000?”, Atwood added.
The two-time Booker Prize winner and author of The Handmaid’s Tale was given a standing ovation by attendees when she took the stage for a conversation moderated by literary editor and long-time friend Amy Grace Loyd.
Atwood spoke at length about the leaked memo that suggested the US Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that enshrined constitutional protections for women seeking abortion.
Taking aim at conservative justices and lawmakers who describe themselves as constitutional originalists in an effort to defend overturning such legislation, Atwood said: “If you take the original constitution [as it is and apply it], a lot of people are going to lose their rights, including all women.”
She added that the next in line to lose their rights, according to a strict reading of the historical document, would be “anybody that doesn’t own property”.
“The first amendment says no state religion,” Atwood continued, to rapturous applause and cheers. “That means a group’s religious beliefs should not be foisted on everyone else.”
Despite women’s rights being eroded, Atwood said she had a lot of hope for the future. “I feel hope is part of the human toolkit we come with, because those of our distant ancestors who were not hopeful did not use their ingenuity … to get out of very difficult situations,” she said. “If you give up, if you are not optimistic about anything, things get inevitably worse.”
Speaking of the need to constantly organise and push back against political tyranny, Atwood concluded: “For hope, we need willpower and luck, but especially the willpower.”
On the first full day of the festival, Atwood spoke to a full room of more than 900 people. She joined an impressive array of Saturday speakers including John Grisham, Don Winslow, Phil Klay, Emily St John Mandel, and Bryant Terry.
The inaugural festival opened on Friday night with a similarly sold-out speech by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead.
Speakers on Sunday include George RR Martin, fantasy novelist, screenwriter and author of The Song of Ice and Fire, which was adapted into the HBO series Game of Thrones; Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright; author and criminal justice activist Valeria Luiselli; chef, cookbook author and owner of London’s Darjeeling Express restaurant Asma Khan; and investigative journalist and author of Under the Banner of Heaven, John Krakauer.
The Independent, as the event’s international media partner, is providing coverage across each day of the festival with exclusive interviews with some of the headline authors. For more on the festival visit our Santa Fe Literary Festival section or visit the festival’s website.