17 Moments In History that Inspired the Handmaid's Tale

After Decree 770, Romanian orphanages were packed with unwanted children who were not receiving enough attention, which resulted in developmental delays. Credit: The New York Times

Decree 770

One of the specific events that Margaret Atwood found during her research process was “Decree 770” in Romania. This was a law that passed in 1967 that made abortions and all forms of contraception illegal. This had nothing to do with religious beliefs. It was an action that the government believed was necessary for the future of their country. The government already taxed married couples a 6% income tax if they did not have children between the ages of 25 and 50, but they realized that this was not enough to stop people from using contraception.

During the 1950’s, Romanian women were entering the workforce and having fewer children. By the 1960’s, abortion became a common practice, because there were very few birth control options available to women to prevent pregnancy. This began a sharp dip in the country’s birth rate. The Communist Party wanted the population to increase from 23 million to 30 million in a single year, so they enacted Decree 770. After the change of law in 1967, and women no longer had access to birth control, the number of babies born that year skyrocketed to roughly double what they had been the year before. Thousands of new preschools and nursery schools had to be built. Orphanages were overflowing with children whose parents could not afford them.

Aside from making abortions illegal and taking contraception off of store shelves, women’s bodies were literally policed. Decree 770 forced women to visit the gynecologist once a month to check for pregnancy, and police officers stood in the halls to make sure women complied. If a woman was pregnant, the doctors followed her progress very closely. Wealthy women were able to buy birth control pills and condoms on the black market, but poor women did not have that option. There were some cases where women caught the pregnancy before the doctors did, and some women died while attempting to give themselves an at-home abortion. The policy continued until the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980’s.