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Tale of suicidal 'Handmaid' in New York goes viral

Two women dressed as "handmaids" in Salt Lake City, Utah during a protest against a recent wave of anti-abortion laws in more than a dozen US states (AFP Photo/Natalie Behring)

New York (AFP) - A red-cloaked "Handmaid" ready to hurl herself off a Manhattan building, possibly unhinged by recent legislative assaults on the right to abortion? That's what a young New Yorker believed, firing up the Twitterverse with a tale that turned out to be about a red umbrella.

For months now, amid the #MeToo movement and challenges to the right to abortion in the United States and elsewhere, demonstrations by women dressed in costumes inspired by "The Handmaid's Tale" have multiplied.

The hit television series based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel evokes a world in which the United States has become a religious dictatorship where fertile women are enslaved and their rape is institutionalized.

On Tuesday, the red cloaks and white bonnets of "The Handmaid's Tale" made their appearance again in demonstrations across the country demanding that abortion rights be protected in the face of recent state bans and restrictions placed on the procedure.

It was against that background that Casey McCormick, who presents herself on social media as an aspiring comedian, thought she saw a "handmaid" about to jump from the top of a building on Park Avenue and 27th street, according to a New York police spokesman.

After she called the police emergency line, two officers climbed up to the roof of the building where they found, not a woman on the brink, but an umbrella, red as the cloaks and with a tip white like the bonnets.

McCormick told the tale with two pictures posted on Twitter: one showed a red silhouette in the distance, which she took for a suicidal woman, and the other a smiling police officer, holding the umbrella.

The New York Police Department retweeted McCormick's post and, in a twist on a familiar line from the television series, added: "Blessed be the umbrella."

By Wednesday, the post had rung up 235,000 "likes" and 71,000 retweets.