Val Vilott, president of the DC Abortion Fund, has responded to “ignorant” conservatives who have recently voiced outrage over the organization’s controversial coat hanger pendants.
Before the passage of Roe v Wade (1973), some women seeking illegal abortions resorted to terminating their own pregnancies with coat hangers.
While conservatives claim that reproductive rights advocates are insensitive and disgusting for making the horrors of illegal abortion a fashion statement, they apparently fail to realize that the policies they want to put in place may lead some women down that very path.
The coat hanger is a symbol of the reproductive justice movement because lack of access to abortion causes women to go to desperate lengths to terminate a pregnancy, similar to those undertaken in the pre-Roe vs Wade era. At that time, consuming Lysol and household poisons was not uncommon to instigate abortion. Nor was inserting knitting needles, Coke bottles, and – yes – wire coat hangers into their cervices.
It might make you cringe to imagine just how desperate one must be to go to these lengths. But we don’t have to imagine. We hear from women every day who are that desperate, with no one else to turn to. With our help, they access quality, safe abortion care – no wire coat hangers needed.
The coat hanger is a reminder of women’s suffering when abortion is placed out of reach. It is a promise from reproductive justice advocates to never go back to the grotesque world our anti-choice opponents are striving for: a world WITHOUT safe access to abortion, where women might have to resort to horrific alternatives like a coat hanger. That’s why our supporters love the pendants and wear them as a point of pride.
While we were surprised by the conservative media’s ignorance of the history of the coat hanger’s symbolism, we certainly welcome the spotlight on our efforts to help women.
In short: the coat hangers are not going anywhere, and neither are we.
Read Vilott’s full statement here.
In a 2008 New York Times op-ed, retired OB-GYN Dr. Waldo L. Fielding confirmed that the horror stories about illegal abortions are very real:
In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in — perhaps the patient herself — found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it.
However, not simply coat hangers were used.
Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion — darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.
Another method that I did not encounter, but heard about from colleagues in other hospitals, was a soap solution forced through the cervical canal with a syringe. This could cause almost immediate death if a bubble in the solution entered a blood vessel and was transported to the heart.
The worst case I saw, and one I hope no one else will ever have to face, was that of a nurse who was admitted with what looked like a partly delivered umbilical cord. Yet as soon as we examined her, we realized that what we thought was the cord was in fact part of her intestine, which had been hooked and torn by whatever implement had been used in the abortion. It took six hours of surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries and repair the part of the bowel that was still functional.
While it is certainly uncomfortable to imagine the horrors that these women were forced to go through, perhaps conservatives should rethink their allegiance to polices that lead to coat hangers being used.