The Reason You're Seeing People With Coat Hanger Tattoos

"Feeling a mix of anxiety, sadness and resolve, I thought: I’m committed now."

When it comes to tattoos, every individual has the right to choose what's written or drawn on their body. With this concept in mind, people are showing their support for women's reproductive rights — a woman's right to choose — by getting coat hanger tattoos. But what exactly is the coat hanger tattoo meaning?

"The short story is that prior to the Roe v. Wade decision, many women used dangerous methods to induce their own abortions, and twisted-up wire hangers were one of the more macabre (and life-threatening) ones," Jessi Gold, MD, MS, wrote for InStyle. "The fear of this image becoming reality once again was very much in the forefront of these women's minds." 

While tattoos with special meaning have inspired the masses to embrace symbolic tattoos over the years, these feminist tattoos have seen a resurgence as the current administration continues to threaten the longevity of Roe v. Wade. Thus, while these government officials are in office, pro-choice coat hanger tattoos will likely continue to gain traction. 

"The coat hanger seemed the natural choice, like a 'no going back' symbol.," Jennifer Conti, MD, clinical assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University, told Gold. "It symbolizes the thing about which I am most passionate in my work and for my patients. It's badass, chic, and a reminder that we will not go back to a time when women were left with this option — not if I can help it... It's a daily reminder that we can never really let down our guard," she added. "We will always need to fight for women. I can't be complacent with this symbol on me."

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As Rebecca J. Rosen wrote for The Atlantic, most people understand that the hanger represents the dangerous, illegal abortions of yesteryear. "It is a tool of last resort, a hack of a household object, conjured out of desperation when nothing else would suffice," she said. Not only do hangers represent the act itself, but they also highlight the glaring inequality behind abortion and contraception access for low-income and minority women.

"Just as access to the illegal service of abortion was unequal, so too was access to perfectly legal resources, such as birth control, sex ed, and health care. This continues to be true in today, a fact highlighted by recent Republican efforts to allow health insurers and employers to exempt contraceptives from their plans," Rosen added. "Legally, women may have a right to choose whether to abort an early unwanted pregnancy or take birth control to prevent one, but for many women that choice is elusive, constrained by the limits of their resources, social, financial, or local.

The DC Abortion Fund notes that the coat hanger has become the symbol of the reproductive justice movement because lack of access to abortion causes women — to this day — to go to desperate lengths to terminate a pregnancy, much like those measures undertaken during the pre-Roe v. Wade era. From consuming Lysol and household poisons, to inserting Coke bottles, knitting needles, and coat hangers into their cervixes, women have done everything imaginable in the face of adversity.

"The coat hanger is a reminder of women's suffering when abortion is placed out of reach," the DC Abortion Fund's website states. "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."

Last year, gynecologist Colleen Krajewski wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in which she detailed the reasoning behind her own coat hanger tattoo. As an abortion provider, Krajewski was specifically motivated to declare her solidarity because of the Trump administration's current assault on reproductive rights. Because of increasing restrictions at the state level, she said, abortion access across the United States has gone from bad to worse. 

"For example, in Pennsylvania, where I live and work, a recent bill (SB3) proposed by the state legislature seeks to ban surgical abortions in the second trimester," Krajewski explained. "If this bill passes, my patients' lives could be endangered; and if I follow the standard protocols to save them, I could be prosecuted under the law as a felon." Thus, because the fate of Roe v. Wade seemed to be in real doubt, Krajewski declared her deception to the cause. "Feeling a mix of anxiety, sadness and resolve, I thought: I'm committed now," she wrote.

But, as Conti — an abortion provider herself — added, openly providing this service doesn't require tunnel vision. Abortion providers do, in fact, care for the whole person.

"Not infrequently after caring for a woman, she will turn to me and say, 'Thank you for being so nice to me,' to which I'll reply, 'Why wouldn't I be?' People imagine that the men and women who perform abortions are a special breed of provider who only do this in a vacuum and don't see the whole person," she told Gold. "The truth is, abortion providers also deliver babies, take out your ovarian cysts, and help with your menopause symptoms. We realize that caring for women means caring for them during every aspect of their reproductive life, and without judgment."

Supporting a woman's right to choose means supporting the whole woman. It means treating them with the dignity all humans deserve. And these coat hanger tattoos are a true sign that even the most marginalized women are never alone.

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