Jezebel writes "Please Stop Using Coat Hangers to Protest Abortion Bans"

Outraged readers respond: "The coathanger is an effectively shocking symbol"

When Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights went to Kentucky to protest the recent passage of a bill to effectively outlaw abortion in Kentucky, they sent a press release to the “feminist” on-line magazine Jezebel. The Jezebel  writer, Susan Rinkunas, wrote what has to be called a snarky, carping column that recycled all the “woke obstructionism” that has served to keep people passive.

That in itself is, unfortunately, nothing new and would not be worth printing. What IS worth printing are the responses to this that came in. These responses illustrate that there is indeed a large reservoir of people who could be won to fight this outrageous attack IF we can get out and reach them.

Below we print the original article, followed by the responses.

Jezebel—April 20, 2022

Please Stop Using Coat Hangers to Protest Abortion Bans

You're not helping anyone and may be preventing people from learning about abortion pills!

By Susan Rinkunas  Wednesday 6:40PM Comments (37)

Last week, the Kentucky legislature effectively ended legal abortion in the state by overriding the governor’s veto on a package of draconian restrictions. A group called Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights is organizing a day of action for Thursday April 21 and calling for volunteers to spread wire coat hangers with its fliers nationwide on what it is deeming “National Coat Hanger Day.” The group said its organizers in Louisville will stage “die-ins in bloody gowns that dramatize the nightmare this will mean for women.” These steps, they say, build toward a national week of action and a mass protest in May, in order to create “nonviolent resistance to STOP the Supreme Court from taking away women’s fundamental right to abortion.” If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and, with it, the right to legal abortion, as it’s expected to do, the group says the result will be “female enslavement.”

Where to begin with this? Well, the most immediate issue is that none of this will help Kentuckians get abortions while lawsuits play out, and the theatrics could in fact take resources away from groups that exist for that purpose.

Something that will help people get abortion care is financially supporting the groups that have been working in the state for years to help actual people get medical care, said Meg Sasse Stern, the support fund director for Kentucky Health Justice Network, an abortion fund that’s been helping residents with financial and logistical support since 2013. “There is no need to come here to distract from the public health crisis we are combating. Trust us, and resource us with unrestricted funding,” Stern told Jezebel in a statement.

“Kentucky-based organizers have been quite clear they don’t want Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights descending on their communities, said Erin Matson, co-founder and executive director of Reproaction, a group that does organizing and opposition research to increase abortion access and advance reproductive justice. “I lead a national organization and guess what? National organizations shouldn’t come parachuting in, ever, with their analysis, solutions, and spotlights. Organizing that doesn’t follow the lead of the people impacted on the ground is a literal worst practice.”

The next issue is the coat hangers, which, as symbols, are outdated and harmful, because they suggest that all illegal abortions will be unsafe. Thanks to abortion pills, this is no longer true. You can self-manage an abortion safely and effectively with the correct guidelines on how to use medication abortion.

But Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights is doubling down on the wire hanger. The group appears to have brought a gigantic hanger to a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court in January for the 49th (and likely last) anniversary of Roe v. Wade and has called for “coat hangers everywhere” for this week. On a sign-up page for Louisville-based actions, they said they needed volunteers to tape fliers on thousands of wire coat hangers and said on a separate page that they’d spread thousands nationwide. The group attempts to explain why it’s using hangers on its website, saying:

Before abortion was legal, many women untwisted wire hangers and inserted them into their vaginas all the way up into their uterus in a desperate attempt to abort unwanted pregnancies. Countless women died in this way. Since then, the wire coat-hanger has become an international symbol to graphically illustrate the real-world life-and-death stakes of safe, legal abortion access to women.

Also since Roe: Abortion pills were approved by the FDA and are available online in all 50 states, if people know how to protect themselves.

“Please consider leaving the coat hangers in your closet, as they contribute to fear mongering narratives about ‘back alley’ abortions,” Stern of KHJN said. “Self-managed abortion is safe and effective when people have the right information, and support. People have been, and still are, managing their own pregnancy outcomes and that will continue, so let’s amplify safer methods for people who choose to self-manage care for whatever reason.” She referred people to KHJN’s Linktree with more information.

“Times have changed since the pre-Roe days: we now have abortion pills,” Matson told Jezebel via email. “With more than a 20-year track record of safety and efficacy, we know abortion pills work. Self-managed abortion with pills is safe, effective, and awesome. In this modern age, the primary risk of abortion bans is legal—criminalizing people, especially people of color and low-income people—not medical.” Many people were recently reminded of this fact with the news of Lizelle Herrera’s arrest and later dismissal of charges for allegedly self-managing her abortion.

Jezebel contacted Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights for comment on local and national advocates’ criticism of its use of coat hangers, possible diversion of financial support and attention from abortion funds, and whether it had done outreach to local reproductive rights and justice groups when planning its Kentucky actions. The group sent a lengthy unsigned response saying in part:

We have come to Louisville to draw attention to the shutdown of legal abortion in Kentucky and the harbinger this is to abortion rights nationwide. We’ve found, both here in Louisville and in many other cities and towns, that most people in this country do not even know about the current threat to abortion rights or all that the loss of this fundamental right would mean.

Is it really responsible to the lives of the millions and millions of people who will be directly negatively impacted by the loss of abortion rights, and is it really responsible journalism, to seek out and elevate what are objectively secondary differences among different forces who care about abortion rights as the focus of an article at this time when legal abortion is existentially threatened, and to give so short a deadline as to preclude any serious interview or discussion over what informs our approach?

As several of our initiators wrote in a recent open letter calling for unified action to defend abortion rights among all who care about justice, “History has shown the terrible cost paid by all people when those with divergent views were unable to rise above personal ego, petty disputes and sectarian squabbles at critical turning points. In contrast, let us unite all who can be unified from different perspectives and viewpoints, around the great unifying objective to stop the Supreme Court from decimating a long-established constitutional right that is central to millions of lives and society as a whole.”

Your questions also imply a zero sum game between the invaluable service of providing abortions or otherwise assisting those who need them (which some involved in RiseUp4AbortionRights.org have been actively involved in for many years) and the political fight that must be waged to defeat the fascist assault on this right. This is not true.”

Matson of Reproaction said: “To the new activists for abortion rights Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights is trying to recruit: Welcome! We’re so excited you are here. There are better ways to take action.”

Woman with green coat hanger with sign Never Again at Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights rally in NYC.

 

DISCUSSION

Community (37)

 

*Amfo > Susan Rinkunas 
4/20/22 9:35pm

Couldn’t disagree with this take more, sadly.

"The next issue is the coat hangers, which, as symbols, are outdated and harmful, because they suggest that all illegal abortions will be unsafe. Thanks to abortion pills, this is no longer true. You can self-manage an abortion safely and effectively with the correct guidelines on how to use medication abortion."

The coat hangers are an effectively shocking symbol for the fact that in a state (or country) where ALL abortions are illegal, a non-zero number will be deadly, and an even bigger non-zero number will be crippling.

It’s more important to highlight that people will die because of these laws, and the deaths will be “self inflicted” because of desperation. This is the true criminality of anti-abortion laws: these laws kill.

That the coathanger is outdated and harmful as a symbol of desperate abortion, isn’t an accident of well-meaning ignorance. The coathanger is entirely the point.

*itsnotaboutthepasta > Amfo
4/21/22 7:33am

This. I remember my first pregnancy scare - abortion was legal and not difficult to access where I was, but I was 19 and a Catholic raised by conservative evangelical parents, so I spent a truly terrifying amount of time (in retrospect) trying to figure out how to throw myself down a flight of stairs in a way that would kill the theoretical fetus but not me. (I was not pregnant in the end, fortunately.)

Susan’s take is short-sighted - and she’s roughly the same age as I am, which is confusing because the coat hanger symbol is so effective that, 30 years after abortion became legal, it stalled my plan for self-harm long enough for my period to finally arrive.

Ignatius Reilly's Valve > Amfo
4/21/22 7:55am

Absolutely agree. Even if the coathanger is no longer the method of choice (even if it never was) it did happen. Some women were desperate and scared enough to do that, and a lot of other things besides (pure bleach injected into the womb was the one that I found almost as horrifying). The right has gotten a lot of mileage out of this bullshit idea that women just party all night Saturday and then decide to have an abortion for funsies on Monday morning. The coat hanger is a reminder of how serious and potentially deadly a business illegalization really is in practice.

And as for this business about making people scared of safe, medical abortion...no, sorry. Safe, medical abortion pills are only available to you in an abortion-is-illegal state if you 1. have access to internet, 2. can read and 3. aren’t scared of who else might intercept your mail. They’re not yet an option for everyone, and the people who meet the three qualifications above can find them online and read about the dangers themselves. No one who NEEDS an abortion is confusing the pills and the coat hanger, only misogynists who find it politically convenient to do so.

Hail Creepsylvania > Amfo
4/21/22 11:52am

I agree. This is the kind of absurd article that gets people talking about whether or not to use coat hangers instead of how we can preserve abortion access. We spend way too much time arguing about things that don’t matter. The real question is will this send the correct message. Illegal abortions are potentially dangerous. Maybe someone has a reaction to an abortion pill and they’re afraid of seeing a Dr because abortion is criminalized.

The only questions we should be asking are is this an effective way of conveying our message which is that abortion should be legal and accessible. The coathanger does. A picture of abortion pills does not. Calling ourselves pro-abortion to destigmatize the procedure does not. Dismissing people who support legal abortion but believe they would never have an abortion doesn’t help us. I know that it’s dismissed as corporate, centerist nonsense, but we have to consider branding. The GQP does and that's why they're winning. 

kimothy > Amfo
4/21/22 1:25pm

Not only that, but not all people are going to be able to access abortion pills. 

Malcire > Susan Rinkunas
4/20/22 10:01pm

Weren't coat hangers pretty much always overplayed as a literal symbol? I thought home remedies and other unsafe poisons were by far the most common illegal abortions gone wrong.

She was weird will be carved into my tomb > Malcire
4/21/22 1:48am

Or going to some unlicensed butcher to bleed out or die of infection later.

And let’s not forget throwing yourself down the stairs!

CaptOtter > Malcire
4/21/22 11:27am

"Weren’t coat hangers pretty much always overplayed as a literal symbol? I thought home remedies and other unsafe poisons were by far the most common illegal abortions gone wrong."

If you’re asking whether it’s overplayed because it’s not representative of the actual method used in a majority of self-managed abortions, my response is “why does that matter?” I mean, let’s say for a moment that what you’re saying is correct regarding the actual prevalence/non-prevalence of the coat hanger abortion (and it might be, I don’t have a strong opinion on the mater,) what are the odds that the sort of person with the education and wherewithal to call out that inaccuracy is also the sort of person that needs to be persuaded to not outlaw abortion? I will submit to you that if a person cares enough about reproductive rights to have educated themselves regarding the on-the-ground realities of abortion (self-managed and otherwise,) they’re either already pro-choice, or they’ve studied the position for the explicit purpose of waging war on reproductive rights. Neither category of person is the target of the message meant to be sent by the symbol of a coat hanger.

Regardless of whether it’s accurate or overly dramatic, it is evocative of some visceral imagery, which is the sort of thing you need to persuade the sort of simple minded ignoramuses who are on the fence about abortion.

Malcire > CaptOtter
4/21/22 11:34am

“Regardless of whether it’s accurate or overly dramatic, it is evocative of some visceral imagery,"

But isn’t that essentially a bad faith argument? Presenting something uncommon as common because it’s more relatable?

CaptOtter > Malcire
4/21/22 11:51am

"But isn’t that essentially a bad faith argument?"

Yes—but so what? All the good faith in the world won’t move the needle for these people; horrible imagery has and does. 

Let’s look at it from the perspective of our opponents: There is no reasonable dispute that third trimester abortions are incredibly rare, and tend to be absolutely tragic for the person receiving them because, in the vast majority of cases, they fully planned to take the pregnancy to term before something went horribly wrong. And yet, the preferred imagery of anti-abortionist protestors tends to be grisly photos of aborted fetuses from third trimester abortions.

You’re never going to get certain sorts of people (that’s me being diplomatic btw,) to read a pamphlets, think critically about statistics, or otherwise learn anything about how human reproduction actually functions. But they will respond to powerful and/or evocative imagery, and will appreciate that you didn’t ask them to read.

CaptOtter > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 11:11am

"The next issue is the coat hangers, which, as symbols, are outdated and harmful, because they suggest that all illegal abortions will be unsafe."

Uh, I’m 90% sure that there are numerous articles published on this site, some probably in the last month, that bemoan the legislation against abortion because (and I’m paraphrasing now,) “we know people will find ways to get abortions, it’s just a question of whether they willor even cando so safely” and “all outlawing abortion does is bring back the days of the dangerous back alley, self-managed abortion. 

Am I crazy? Did I just imagine that language (or language like it) appearing in like one out of every three (or four) articles on reproductive rights published on Jez?

Reader7890 > CaptOtter
4/21/22 2:43pm

Nah.  You’re sane.  At least about that.  :-)

stevie > Susan Rinkunas
4/20/22 9:07pm

Im not sure that I agree. I want people, especially young women, to know what happened to girls like my mother back in the days when girls had no choice. They should be bloody coathangers and they should come with the threat of arrest and prison like my mother was threatened with by the doctor who treated her afterwards.  People should know what happened so that they know to fight hard to protect others from that fate. 

Alpine Azalea > Susan Rinkunas
4/20/22 8:50pm

Mmm....I understand this take, but it assumes that people both know their history and that this symbol is no longer needed to remind people of the lengths to which people will go to obtain abortions. Neither of those should be assumed. We don’t like it when history makes us uncomfortable, so we often keep that stuff veiled from students ( or are told not to teach about it). We’re not to the point that we can afford to abandon such a symbol when many young women have no context of it or what kind of threat it represents, but would likely be horrified if they were to ask. They should be horrified- it’s still a forceful reminder of where we may be heading if Roe is overturned and using a more “ friendly” symbol makes illegal abortion more palatable. “ Illegal? That’s ok, I can still get pills by mail” is not the message we need to send. 

Also, those pills can be expensive and difficult to obtain, even by mail, for the people who are in most dire need of them, though this site does the best it can to inform people of ways to get them. But a 19 year old who still lives with their parents may still have a hard time trying to make sure they get to the mailbox before their dad does, even if she has the ability to order them online.

Just because pills are a safe alternative doesn’t mean they should be the symbol of illegal abortion- they should in fact represent what legal abortion looks like- safe, private, dignified. The pills are the future when they can be legally, safely, affordably and privately accessed..... And right now that isn’t universally true.

I Miss Splinter > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 10:05am

"Also since Roe: Abortion pills were approved by the FDA and are available online in all 50 states"

Available for now. If you don’t think that Republicans will come for abortion pills within the year, then you’re deluding yourself.

Ignatius Reilly's Valve > I Miss Splinter
4/21/22 3:08pm

Thank you. They’re surely going out of their fucking minds already at the idea of even a single woman not having to cross a picket line shaming to get this procedure anymore.

DaisyLady > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 12:10pm

This really bad take was written by someone that is either very young or very rich. Either way it ignores privilege not afforded to everyone. 

OtherTimes > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 7:22am

Shouldn’t effective symbols show what you’re for rather against? Nuance and even “if/then” messaging is often lost on the public in broad campaigns such as this. Look at how a slogan like “Defund the Police” was misconstrued and weaponized against police reform movements. “If abortion is outlawed, then...” is too complicated a demonstration message for a public that isn’t already tuned in.

Pro-abortion groups using coat hangers and bloody giwns as symbols means that abortion will be associated with coat hangers and bloody gowns. People already supportive of reproductive rights will understand, but those on the fence or who only half pay attention will be turned off. “I used to be for a women’s right to choose but those Pro-abortion wackos want to make it legal for doctors to use coat hangers on fetuses?! No. That should be illegal. I will now vote for candidates who support abortion restrictions.”

Reader7890 > OtherTimes
4/21/22 2:54pm

The coat hanger has been a symbol of what women have to go through to unsafely abort when they don’t or can’t carry a child to term for whatever reason for more than 50 years. People who mistake it as “pro-abortion wackos want to make it legal for doctors to use coat hangers on fetuses” are either new to symbols or purposely missing the point.

What kind of symbol would you suggest instead to show what pro-choice people are for? There are signs saying Pro-choice. There are signs saying I am an adult and will decide what to do with my own body. There are signs saying Fuck [whoever]. I’m really curious, and not trying to be snide. I get the feeling the writer of this article took a course in marketing and learned that positive symbols = good and negative symbols = bad and are trying to apply it in a situation where it isn’t applicable.

OtherTimes > Reader7890
4/21/22 5:51pm

From a semiotics perspective I would say that the meaning of symbols can change over time, but for the most part I agree with what you’re saying. And I definitely do not have any answers. I’ve just been thinking a lot about how progressive messages get weaponized by bad faith actors or misconstrued by low-engagement moderates. So I can see where the individual from Kentucky Health Justice Network might be coming from.

We’re not going to win over the bad faith actors, but the the low-engagement moderate voter is probably the target that progressives need. Again, I don’t have any answers. I only have observations from my own community. I live in a purple-ish county in a red state and know people who are either easily manipulated and/or will turn against causes they otherwise support if they don’t like the method of activism. These are people who genuinely supported criminal justice reform and the BLM protests in 2020. But the images of vandalism several states away caused them to question that support until they eventually voted for the local “law and order” candidate. These are people who say, “of course I support a woman’s right to choose”. Yet they vote for conservative senators because, “I think Democrats have gone too far.”

I don’t think these people are acting in bad faith. It’s just that they don’t have any desire to really interrogate their positions. I think they just want to maintain their own status quo at the least amount of energy expended. It’s easier to give into the fearmongering and accept simple arguments made by others in bad faith rather than it is to take the time to understand an issue. If the path of least resistance is to condemn the cause because you’re turned off by the messenger, then that’s what these people will do.

Anyway, these are the people who came to mind when I read this article. I’m not saying that negative symbols lack purpose and I am not saying protests and movements need to be polite and sanitized and built only around winning over the support of low-engagement fence-sitting voters. But I suspect that we need them.

Reader7890 > OtherTimes
4/22/22 11:30am

You make very good points.  Thanks for replying!

JennyFreakingWilliamson > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 11:19am

I’m sorry but this is an extremely crappy take.

It assumes that everyone who needs an abortion has access to the Internet to order pills, and can afford a computer and an Internet connection...it’s a bit classist.

The women who are most affected by abortion bans are those in poverty. They may not have access to the Internet or the ability to order pills online. So yes, some may indeed try using more dangerous methods like coat hangers because it’s all they have available.

Not to mention, some women in abusive relationships might not be able to get pills in the mail because their partner watches their mail. 

joey-taps > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 10:55am

“Please consider leaving the coat hangers in your closet, as they contribute to fear mongering narratives about ‘back alley’ abortions,” Stern of KHJN said.”

It’s not fear mongering narratives, they did happen and happen today where abortions are illegal. What kind of shit is that person spewing? Like please make your protests more polite and learn about the abortion pills? I don’t know who that person is, but lemme guess, she’s white and has pretty good income?

She was weird will be carved into my tomb > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 1:46am

Given that plenty of people are working hard to restrict access to abortion pills, I’m not sure we’re ready to retire the back-alley abortion imagery just yet. And I haven’t tried to order them, but I have trouble imaging that just anyone (with no money, or no mailing address, or no prescription, or under 18, or whatever) can get those so easily that we can all just chill already.

I also just found out that Plan B has a weight limit of 155lb! Not the same drug, but it does point out how little they tell you about these things. So, pills are rad, but some of us might still need to go see a doctor to get an abortion.

AND (because I can’t stop myself) limiting access to reproductive health care STILL KILLS WOMEN even if they can order an abortion by mail.  That’s the point of the bloody, rusty, offensive, clutch-your-pearls coat hangers.  YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LIKE IT.  IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD.

expat-lawyer > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 7:27am

Pregnant people will absolutely die horrible, painful and bloody deaths because of these laws — not because they will self-inflict abortions, but because doctors won’t save the life of the mother if it means ending a pregnancy. All you have to do is look at countries like Ireland and Poland to see how this plays out. In Poland, Agnieszka T died of septic shock after being forced to carry a dead fetus for a week (because removing it supposedly would have put the twin fetus at risk). In Ireland, Savita Halappanavar died from sepsis and cardiac arrest after doctors refused to remove the gestational sac that was protruding from her body and had no chance of survival. Even in the US, late-term abortion bans have made it so there aren’t enough trained doctors who can perform third-trimester abortions in the case of medical emergency. So maybe the more accurate symbol would be doctor scrubs covered in blood, but to pretend the abortion pills are the solution to all reproductive health problems seems like the most dangerous plan of all.

Ken Dull > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 6:18am

I disagree. Coat hangers represent the pain women have to inflict on themselves to get help that should be provided by medical services. Its a cruel, twisted piece of metal and that works more perfectly than anything else.

A hit is hard to resist and I never miss > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 8:02am

To summarize, because people could potentially get access to a safer (but still illegal) abortion method by…what, how, money? Resourcefulness? Theft? Means that we shouldn’t focus on the horror side of abortion bans?

The hyperbole is the purpose. We’re not getting our rights back by offering work arounds.

Ad_absurdum_per_aspera > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 1:26pm

"available online protect themselves Also since Roe: Abortion pills were approved by the FDA and are in all 50 states, if people know how to."

If the right to abortion is overturned, what makes anybody think this pill will remain legal and available?

UnknownPerson2 > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 1:38pm

Matson is making the false assumption that pills will continue to be available in every state. The coat hanger is symbolizing what we will be going back to.

Chaitali Sen > Susan Rinkunas
4/22/22 12:39am

The best parts of this article are the quotes from Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. I’m glad someone is mobilizing people in the streets to fight for legal abortion. 

Really Stupid Dumbass > Susan Rinkunas
4/21/22 5:02pm

No.

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