You might have missed this story if you don’t watch The Daily Show or read RH Reality Check, but a dry cleaner in Ohio has been putting “Choose Life” messaging on, of all things, wire coat hangers. This strikes me as a pretty brazen action, and not just because wire coat hangers are, to put it mildly, fairly loaded images when it comes to abortion. It’s also because this dry cleaner is, as best as I can tell, a private business whose day-to-day activities, not to mention income, have nothing to do with the abortion issue.
Plenty of people have responded to the dry cleaner’s very special coat hangers with revulsion and snark, reactions that I wholeheartedly support. Yet I also recognize that a private business has the right to put whatever messages they want on their products, just as individuals have the right to decide whether to patronize a business. If my dry cleaner suddenly started disseminating anti-choice messages on its hangers—or started blatantly supporting any other political viewpoint with which I disagreed—I would take my business elsewhere, and make sure that the owner knew why.
The anti-choice movement has rarely, if ever, shown any qualms about integrating anti-choice views with other activities. Their messaging tends to veer towards the graphic, gratuitous, and attention seeking, and while I’ll be the first to say that it often makes no sense (anyone that compares abortion to the Holocaust or slavery only demonstrates how little they know about abortion, the Holocaust, or slavery), it’s hard not to admire their ballsiness.
The only clearly pro-choice advertising I can recall seeing in the past few years came courtesy of the fashion designer Kenneth Cole. While it’s great that a large company was running pro-choice ads in a national magazine, it would be even better if small, local businesses run by pro-choice individuals took a page from the Ohio dry cleaner’s approach and shared their views with their communities.
After all, other recent events have shown that even after the recent election, reproductive rights remain threatened. Michigan—where I grew up and went to college—became the latest state to deal women’s health and choice a serious blow this year. The legislature passed a so-called “super-bill” that would restrict the use of telemedicine for medical abortion procedures; regulate clinics as though they were surgical centers; and require that doctors screen women for coercion before performing the abortion. The “super-bill” is currently awaiting the expected signature of Governor Rick Snyder.
Each part of this bill is troublesome. Michigan is a pretty large state, and some areas—particularly in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, and the entire Upper Peninsula—are very rural. It’s already difficult to find a provider in these areas; as of 2008, 83% of Michigan counties lacked an abortion provider. Restricting the use of telemedicine will impose further burdens on women that don’t live near clinics that perform abortions.
Requiring physicians to screen for coercion means more than doctors being forced to ask patients intrusive questions. Michigan already has a 24-hour waiting period in place, and it already requires that a woman seeking an abortion be read information that is, according to the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute, “designed to discourage her from having an abortion.” This additional requirement makes it clear that the state does not trust its female residents to be able to make up their own minds about having a medical procedure.
Finally, requiring that abortion clinics be regulated like surgical centers means that clinics will be held to specific structural requirements that have nothing to do with women’s health and safety. However, if clinics do not undergo the necessary—and likely expensive—renovations to, for example, widen their hallways, they may have to close their doors.
Looking at this bill and the dozens like it that have popped up in states all across the country, it’s easy to forget that abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure. It’s easy to forget that one in three women in this country will have an abortion by the time they’re 45. Because these bills make it seem like nothing could be more rare or dangerous than having an abortion, and actions like that Ohio dry cleaner further promote the idea that abortion is the wrong choice. It’s past time for the millions of people that are passively pro-choice—who have had an abortion and never told anyone, who supported their girlfriend’s right to choose, who would never choose abortion but believe that a private health decision shouldn’t be made by politicians—to speak out for choice. Put your own sign in the window of your business or next to the cash register. Write a letter to your local newspaper. Vote for the candidate that respects women’s intelligence. The pro-choice side has a silent majority, but the silent majority strategy is failing us. Each of us needs to find our own way to speak up and make our voice heard.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.