Sunday, November 22, 2009

What Does A Coat Hanger Mean to You?

I was heading to class when I saw it, the second ad in two days with a coat hanger on it. I paused and read the text. This one was for a clothing drive, the first was for a coat check.

As I looked at it, the thoughts running through my mind were not on clothes, not on the needs of refugees, but on that symbol, that image of a coat hanger brazenly placed in a public space without understanding of its historic meaning.

When I see an image of a coat hanger that takes up almost the entire space of a flyer, my thoughts are not on coats. They are one those women I have spoken to, women who have told me stories about infections, sepsis, hysterectomy, about losing women they loved.

The coat hanger retains its symbolic meaning that it has held for decades for many pro-choice people. It represents the damage done to women’s bodies when they tried to self induce abortions with any implement or means available because the law at the time did not give us any other avenue to end unwanted pregnancy.

Some of these women did use coat hangers, bending wires to shove it through their cervixes, risking their lives out of desperation to end a pregnancy.

Here is the account of one retired doctor who tells of his experiences dealing with the aftermath of unsafe, illegal abortions in pre-Roe v. Wade America.

Have we gotten to a point in our society where we taken abortion access for granted to the degree that we have forgotten what happened to these women when abortion was illegal? How can we forget the women who so often had no choice but to risk their lives with unsafe procedures and who often also risked jail time when we still live in a country where people are killed for trying to ensure that women have access to safe, legal abortions?

These women have not forgotten :

I realize that this was not an intentional slight to those of us who see the historically painful connotation associated with coat hangers. But the next time you think about putting a picture of them all over Bowne Hall, talk to the women who have been through these struggles.

You will find that these women are not some mythical figures, they are our grandmothers, our grandmother’s sisters, our mothers, our aunts, our neighbors and they do not have the luxury of forgetting the days when the only choice this country gave women was so often a coat hanger. For their sake, and for the sake of every other woman who needs or may ever need access to safe, legal abortion, we should not forget.

Cynthia Downey is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at

1 comment:

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