For years the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) has given small, silver coat hanger pendants as a gift to monthly donors who give $10 or more. They are well liked among our supporters. On more than one occasion people have asked me how they can get one. When I wear mine, if I get any comments, they are positive. It’s often been a conversation starter about DCAF and the work we do.
Last week, however, some conservative outlets, who do not support a woman’s right to choose abortion, found out about this. Let’s just say they don’t share my view about the pendant. Once their base latched on, DCAF was inundated with hateful – and in some cases threatening – comments.
Comments like this one from former presidential candidate Herman Cain: “DC abortion fund pushing donations to show a special someone you love them so much, you’d murder the unborn for them.”
Which then led to this one from Chris Smith, “Herman’s right. Fuck all you CUNTS. I hope someone kills all of you.” Another suggested, “you need a high powered suction catheter up your vagina. Or thru the back of your brain. Murderers.”
Some were less hateful, but all seemed to miss the point of the coat hanger. They said we wear death around our necks, that we are being callous. Or that we somehow skipped over the history ourselves and simply think it’s fashionable.
Here’s a quick primer on the coat hanger as a symbol of the pro-choice movement.
Before Roe v. Wade, women had abortions. If they were fortunate enough, and could afford it, they went to one of the few states in the U.S. that allowed them, or they went abroad. These women of means were able to have a safe abortion. For women without such means, they either carried pregnancies to term that they did not want, and possibly could not support, or they had an illegal abortion. Some of those illegal abortions were performed with objects like knitting needles and yes, coat hangers. Some of those women died. Others were saved in a hospital, but were rendered sterile. Once Roe v. Wade became law, women no longer had to resort to back alley abortions and coat hangers. For DCAF, an organization committed to helping women access safe abortion, the coat hanger is a symbol of where we came from, and a commitment to never return.
I must admit, it’s not really news that the conservative media is just now learning about a years-old monthly donor program by a local abortion fund. What is newsworthy, though, is that because of the push by these same anti-choice activists, access to abortion today is becoming increasingly like the pre-Roe era. Women in parts of Texas now have to drive hundreds of miles to reach the nearest clinic that provides abortions. Couple this with 24-hour waiting laws and their “access” becomes almost inaccessible. According to the most recent numbers by the Guttmacher Institute, 89 percent of counties in the U.S. do not have an abortion provider. More and more laws are being passed to make it harder to have a safe abortion, which is what the anti-choice side wants. They want abortion made illegal again because they wrongly assume it will go away. The fact is, it doesn’t ever go away.
Making abortion harder to access creates a burden for all women, but one that is felt more harshly by low-income women, those who are least able to overcome the obstacles. Just like in the pre-Roe days, women of means can travel the hundreds of miles, and arrange for child care if need be. It’s more than they should have to do, but they can do it. Not so for women living below the poverty line, without reliable transportation, without insurance to defray the cost. These are the women who call us. In another time, these may have been the women resorting to unsafe options like coat hangers.
One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. We can make abortion more rare by increasing access to affordable birth control, and by teaching comprehensive sex education in school, and we should do those things. But there will always be some women who will need to have an abortion. And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with having an abortion if that is what a woman chooses to do.
When a woman calls our helpline she is effectively engaging in things that make most people uncomfortable, and she is doing it out of serious need. She is cold calling a stranger, to ask for money, for a highly stigmatized procedure. We help her with the cost as best we can. And if by wearing a pendant I am helping to start a couple conversations that decrease the stigma, I’m happy to do that too.
It’s ok if you don’t like the coat hanger, but we’re going to keep offering them.
Colleen Crinion is a progressive activist and board member of the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF). She earned her M.A. in Sociology from American University, focusing on gender, family, sexuality and the media. She has been published in The Huffington Post, Virginian Pilot, Ms. Magazine, Fem 2pt0, and Spike the Water Cooler. As a DCAF board member and former Planned Parenthood employee, she writes primarily about women’s issues and reproductive justice. Originally from Michigan, she currently resides in Washington, DC. Colleen tweets at @colleeneliza.