Some are calling an Ohio dry-cleaning business’ choice to put a “pro-life” message on wire coat hangers the "worst marketing choice ever." Do the owners of Cincinnati’s Springdale Cleaners really think a woman considering giving herself an abortion with a coat hanger will reconsider after viewing their message?
This small gesture highlights an important fact about America’s anti-abortion movement: they are simply unwilling to address the risk of banning abortions to women’s lives.
The use of an anti-abortion message on a coat hanger is sickly ironic. Before Roe, some desperate women would attempt to self-induce an abortion by inserting a wire hanger into their uterus through their cervix. These women ran the risk of puncturing internal organs and dying of septicemia.
A 1968 study revealed that 1.2 million illegal abortions took place each year in the United States (nearly the exact same amount of abortions that occurred in 2008, despite the fact almost all abortions were illegal at that time). Approximately 50% of all maternal deaths in the first half of the 20th century occurred as a result of illegal abortion complications. Thousands more women were seriously injured by abortion procedures performed without proper medical oversight.
Since abortion was legalized in the United States maternal death rates have dropped significantly and medical oversight has made the procedure much safer for women. Fewer than 1% of women who receive abortion care suffer from severe complications. Every country that has liberalized abortions laws has seen a decrease in deaths and serious complications as a result of abortion.
Making abortion safe and legal has saved women’s lives, but anti-abortion forces are tirelessly trying to scale back women’s access to reproductive health care.
By passing parental notification laws, mandatory waiting periods and biased counseling, targeted regulations of abortion clinics, and limitations of public funding of abortion, anti-abortion activists are trying to make abortions harder to obtain. However, they are not addressing the underlying reasons some women are motivated to choose abortion: economic inequality, discrimination against pregnant and parenting workers and students, and lack of child care assistance, to name a few. And the most zealous anti-abortion advocates have committed atrocious acts of violence in the name of the “unborn." Since 1977, there have been over 59,000 attacks on abortion clinics, including 7 murders, 41 bombings, and 343 documented death threats.
Desperate women will find a way to have an abortion regardless of whether the procedure is legal or illegal. The metal coat hanger is still an important symbol in the abortion debate, but not for the message Springdale Cleaners is trying to convey. Metal coat hangers remind us that if we turn back the clocks on abortion rights, we will put women’s lives at risk.