15 Most Terrifying Laws In A Handmaid’s Tale


The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most frightening dystopias in television history. The United States of America has been replaced by the Republic of Gilead, an extremely oppressive theocracy that enslaves and subjugates nearly every one of its citizens, and even its ruling class is often victim to its barbaric punishments.

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Almost no one would willingly live in a country like Gilead, so the politicians of the nation have enacted laws that have basically ensured that no one in the country can leave, either because they don’t know how or because they’re too scared to stand up against their government. Pretty much every one of their laws is an object lesson in the horrors of extremism, but some laws stick out as the worst of the worst. These are the most terrifying laws in Gilead.


Women Can’t Vote.

Any woman living in the Western world would be appalled at the idea of their right to vote being taken away, and it says a whole lot about Gilead’s societal structure and laws that this is actually one of the least horrifying laws that they have enacted on their populace.

The governing body of Gilead is completely confusing and unclear, and it appears that this is an intentional move to obfuscate where the power truly lies. So in that sense, it’s really a question of how much voting in the “Republic” of Gilead even matters at this point.

Certain classes do not have the right to a fair trial.

Americans are raised with the notion that they are entitled to certain rights that are applicable to everyone, and one of the biggest is the right to a fair trial.

And while the favored classes of Gilead might have an opportunity at a “fair” hearing (if getting a hand cut off for bad behavior can be considered fair), others don’t even have the opportunity to speak in their own defense. As Emily’s arrest early on in the series demonstrated, she was literally incapable of speaking.

Women Can’t Write.

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It’s beyond bizarre to imagine any government making it literally illegal for half of their population to even write, but Gilead is nothing if not the most extreme imaginable oppression. The Biblical justification for this law is pretty much nonexistent, but the actual word of the Bible clearly doesn’t have a lot of impact on the realities of Gilead’s extremist laws.

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Words have power, as Serena Joy Waterford’s prior career as an extreme right-wing author demonstrated. And since women in Gilead are supposed to have as little power as possible, it’s no shock that they’re now banned from writing.

Women Can’t Read.

This law obviously goes hand in hand with the previous law, but in addition to being forbidden from writing, women are also forbidden from reading.

This is a horrifying but brilliant little twist of a law from Gilead as well, because while they use the Bible to justify every awful thing that they do, if women are banned from reading then they can’t exactly prove or disprove that Gilead’s laws are actually completely made-up nonsense. As fans saw in the prior season of The Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead takes this law very seriously, and Serena was lucky to only lose a finger instead of a hand.

Women can be legally deemed “unwomen” and be stripped of all rights.

Alexis Bledel as Oflgen/Emily in The Handmaid's Tale

Women are obviously extremely restricted in the Republic of Gilead, but amazingly, it’s possible to be even lower on the totem pole than a Gilead woman.

Unwomen are essentially women who can’t fit into the new Gilead society for some reason. Either they can’t adjust to the new world order, or they’re “criminals” (i.e. they were social justice advocates or in the pre-Gilead era, or engaged in some other profession or behavior that Gilead found unacceptable).

Competing Religions Are Outlawed.

In a theocracy, it’s upsettingly realistic to assume that all other religions will be outlawed and that people who adhere to those religions may be punished very harshly for their differing points of view.

But Gilead’s particular brand of Christianity seems to be the most extreme fire-and-brimstone version of the religion, and while they have made “competing” religions illegal, they have also made every branch of Christianity besides their own illegal. And of course, anyone who is discovered to be of a different faith is typically sentenced to death for their heresy.

Women Can’t Own Property.

This is yet another one of the more insidious laws in Gilead’s society. Because given the entire societal structure of the nation, this really comes as no surprise. But when it comes to disenfranchising its population, there is really no greater extreme that they could go to.

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Things like literacy and religious freedom are undoubtedly important, inalienable rights for all humans on earth, but to deny someone ownership of literally anything in the world completely traps them in their station in life and gives them zero means of escape, which is obviously the idea behind this law.

Contraception Is Illegal.

As anyone who has watched more than 40 seconds of The Handmaid’s Tale already knows, the entire country of Gilead is ostensibly built around resolving the plummeting birth rates by any means necessary.

However, the oppressive nation tends to talk out of both sides of its mouth here, because paradoxically, anyone who is found using contraception is punishable by death (and if birthing children is all that matters, how could any death of fertile people be justified). And in case forced birth wasn’t horrifying enough in concept, the reality of handmaids is enough to turn anyone’s stomach.

Abortion is retroactively illegal.

Janine holding Charlotte (Angela) on The Handmaid's Tale

Given Gilead’s stance on childbirth and childbearing in general, abortion being the biggest of taboos is not a huge shock. However, what makes their laws regarding it even more terrifying is that it’s not just illegal in Gilead, but it’s a crime if a woman has ever had an abortion, even if she had it in a time or place where it was legal.

And unsurprisingly, this gives the state the opportunity to arrest fertile women and sentence them to serve as a handmaid to make up for their sin.

Male Next Of Kin Rule Women And Children.

Gilead is a nation that relies on the subjugation of its people in order to function, and one of the clearest and easiest ways that they’ve made this happen is by only giving any real legal rights to men. The women and children of their society are pretty much property belonging to their male next of kin, whether that’s their father, husband, or whatever man is left over after the revolution.

In this day and age, most people would imagine that’s impossible because any rational person understands that one human can’t be owned by another, but this idea is one of the main cornerstones of Gilead’s existence.

Second marriages are retroactively made illegal.

Although flashbacks of June’s story have demonstrated that she was literally an adulterer who began her relationship with Luke while he was still married to someone else, that’s not all that qualifies as adultery in the eyes of Gilead.

According to their laws, only first marriages are legal. This means that anyone in the US who had been divorced and then married again had their second marriages dissolved and were considered criminals in the eyes of the state.

Actions can be made retroactively illegal.

This idea is self-evident because there are already specific acts that Gilead has made retroactively illegal, but retroactive laws are extremely uncommon in civilized societies because it is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.

It’s even more frightening in the brutal political atmosphere of Gilead, because it essentially means that those in power can create laws to target their enemies despite the fact that they weren’t actually doing anything illegal at the time that the action was taken.

“Gender Treachery” Is Illegal.

Moira volunteering with refugees in Canada in The Handmaid's Tale

According to the laws of Gilead, sexual intercourse is solely for procreation and therefore is only legally permitted between a man and a woman. So of course, anyone who is not heterosexual is illegal.

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It’s one thing to outlaw behaviors, but to make the existence of an actual person illegal is truly incomprehensible. It’s not surprising in the least that a bunch of religious ideologues would look at LGBTQ+ sexualities as a sin or even as a crime, but it flies in the face of the most fundamental human rights in the world.

The Free Press Is Illegal.

This is one of those laws that once again seems downright logical according to Gilead’s complete illogic, but once the freedom of the press is gone it’s starkly clear how important it is as a basic human right.

Half of the population can’t read anyway, and the government of Gilead has no interest in letting its people know what it’s up to, so the notion that they would have any press at all seems like a bit of a stretch. But concealment of information and truth is one of the most dangerous and easiest ways to control millions of people too.

Freedom Of Speech Is Illegal.

Anyone who has ever been on Twitter has questioned whether or not speech should truly be free at least once in their lives, but the realities of what banning free speech means are legitimately terrifying to see in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Regulating what people can even say to one another is a level of control that only the scariest totalitarian regimes subscribe to, and putting every person in the country in a mindset where they are always in danger if they ever express themselves openly really robs them of their own personhood. Gilead’s rule of law is to fall in line or die, and nothing could make this clearer.

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