Protesting Amy Coney Barrett’s hearing, these ‘handmaids’ take on new meaning

Activists dressed as characters from "The Handmaid's Tale" protest Sunday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Activists dressed in the crimson robes and white bonnets made famous by Hulu’s Emmy-winning drama “The Handmaid’s Tale” marched on Capitol Hill Sunday to oppose the Senate confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett. The judge would fill late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court.

The demonstrators wore face coverings as precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than the gags worn by the show’s characters to silence disobedient handmaids — fertile women who are forcibly impregnated during religious ceremonies in the series’ fictional, totalitarian Gilead.

The handmaid-styled protesters have become a touchstone for women’s and reproductive rights since the publication of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel. They were a silent yet powerful presence in 2018 during then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s volatile confirmation hearings, among other historical events surrounding women’s rights.

Handmaids protest
Activists assemble at the Supreme Court Sunday before the start of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

The women take on a more charged significance during Barrett’s hearing this week due to the Trump nominee’s affiliation with the People of Praise religious community, whose high-ranking female leaders are called handmaids.

The Associated Press reported last week that Barrett, a Roman Catholic, served as a handmaid in the multidenominational Christian organization. The community opposes abortion and holds that men are divinely ordained as the “head” of both the family and faith, while it is the duty of wives to submit to them.

The legal scholar has thus far refused to discuss her membership in the group. Her opening statement, which was released Sunday, emphasized that policy decisions should be made by elected officials, not the courts.

Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing begins before the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee.

Oct. 12, 2020

Following Monday’s opening statements and remarks from Barrett, senators will have a few days to question the conservative appeals-court judge. On Thursday, they’ll hear from legal experts and people who know Barrett well.

Her nomination has become contentious since Ginsburg’s death last month. Democrats are outraged by the Republican push to confirm her even after voting in the presidential election has begun in many states. President Trump’s rival, Joe Biden, also has warned that Barrett will side with conservative efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.


Barrett’s ascension would cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, whose justices serve for life.

By Monday morning, the crimson handmaids weren’t the only costumed demonstrators at the Capitol.

Supporters for Amy Coney Barrett
Supporters of the confirmation of nominee Amy Coney Barrett rally at the Supreme Court Monday.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)
Activists opposed to the confirmation of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett
Activists opposed to Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation also assembled on Capitol Hill Monday.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

Anti-Barrett protesters in pandemic-inspired hazmat suits appeared to protest the proceedings for taking place during the COVID-19 crisis. Other protesters were met by anti-abortion demonstrators and conservative students dressed in white wigs and black robes who tried to drown them out, according to reporters tweeting from the scene.

Several protesters were arrested by Capital Police.