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The Coat Hanger as a Symbol, and Why Abortion Access Matters

Statement from Val Vilott, President of the DC Abortion Fund

March 20, 2014

It’s said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Lately, it seems there’s been a lot of forgetfulness about the history of women’s reproductive freedom. The coat hanger has long been a symbol of the reproductive justice movement. The DC Abortion Fund – contrary to recent conservative media reports – has for many years given away a silver coat hanger pendant to our monthly supporters.

coat hanger penant with news at 11 captionThe pendant is nothing new or even particularly newsworthy. Anyone who wants a pendant today can sign up here to become a monthly donor for as little as $10 a month. If you do, please consider this my personal thanks. Welcome to a wonderful community of dedicated, compassionate abortion access supporters – we’re glad to have you!

What does your donation go to? Helping women in need. DCAF is a small, all-volunteer organization that gives out grants to women and girls in DC, Maryland, and Virginia who can’t afford the full cost of abortion care. We are no stranger to opposition, but we do this work because we know what the stakes are if we don’t. Due to distance, cost, and other state-imposed burdens, it is increasingly difficult to access safe abortion care here in the DC metro area and around the country. As a result, we – and many other funds around the country – have seen demand for our help increase steadily, with more and more women calling us for help.

Why is the coat hanger 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 v 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 here at DCAF, I 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.

More people should know about the efforts of the DC Abortion Fund and funds like it helping women across the country. In fact, we’re in the middle of our National Bowl-A-Thon Fundraising campaign, which you can join here. And if you want a silver coat hanger pendant, please become a monthly donor here.

In short? The coat hangers are not going anywhere, and neither are we.

Thanks for your interest in our work!