On Friday night, the Texas Senate passed one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the nation and in one vote, closed 37 of the 42 clinics in the entire state and unconstitutionally banned abortions after 20 weeks. This bill is one of many to restrict abortion and target abortion providers and clinics, creating a pre-Roe v. Wade world for many women who have nowhere to go to access safe and legal abortion care. It is not hyperbole to say that women's lives are at risk in the midst of the latest wave of abortion restrictions. What’s most disturbing is that anti-choice legislators and activists know this, and they seemingly welcome it.
Fox News pundit Erick Erickson is known for making offensive comments, but last night, as the Texas Senate passed a bill that endangers Texas women’s lives, he outdid himself in sheer audacity and cruelty when he sent this tweet, with a link to a site that sells coat hangers:
We’ve come to expect this kind of mindless trolling from Erickson. He’s made a career out of saying offensive things and lapping up the controversial attention he receives. Here, he is openly mocking the impending death of countless women at the hands of a bill he supports. But this tweet encapsulates a much larger reality of the anti-choice movement, one that is so rarely announced and celebrated as it is in Erickson’s tweet: the anti-choice movement knows that it is driving women to unsafe abortions, and it does not care.
If we dig deeper, we find that Erickson is not alone. There are scores of anti-choice activists and legislators openly mocking women who have died from abortions or women who have abortions because their lives are in danger. An anti-choice blogger created a “Parody Testimonial” site that mocked women who have later-term abortions because their health or lives are at risk. A woman died after complications from a later-term abortion and anti-choice activists cruelly and illegally leaked her name and private information to the public.
If history were our guide, we would know that restricting or banning safe and legal abortions does nothing to prevent abortion. Instead, it ensures that illegal and unsafe abortions will abound and women will pay for their attempt at reproductive freedom with their lives. Banning abortion and making safe, legal abortion care inaccessible is not only irresponsible and unconstitutional, it is downright deadly.
According to the National Organization for Women, in the two decades preceding the passage of Roe v. Wade, it is estimated that between 160 and 260 women died from an illegal abortion every year, and thousands more were seriously injured. Women who couldn’t manage to find an underground doctor often took measures themselves, often inserting large knitting needles or wire coat hangers into their vagina and uterus in order to terminate their pregnancy. The coat hanger is not a myth, and it is not hyperbole.
Women still die today from unsafe abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, approximately 47,000 women die worldwide from unsafe abortions every year, and that number will only increase in response to the onslaught of abortion restrictions and forced closings of abortion clinics in the United States.
Abortion rights activists often reference or display wire coat hangers (as Erickson’s tweet mocked), a powerful and pointed representation of these women who paid for an abortion with their lives. We know our history, and we know where women in this country are headed if more bills like the one in Texas are passed. To mock the women who have died because of unsafe abortions and the women who will die because of this bill shows a special kind of heartlessness, but it also reveals the callous indifference that anti-choice activists and legislators feel towards women.
The fight is far from over in Texas. Legal challenges will be filed, and at the very least, this bill and the undemocratic process through which it was forced upon the state of Texas has galvanized abortion rights supporters in the state and nationwide. But in the face of these bills, remember what is at stake. Remember that women paid with their lives because safe abortion was illegal or inaccessible.
And remember that through it all, anti-choicers like Erick Erickson do not care one bit.