I have a tattoo of a coat hanger on my forearm.
When people ask me what it means, I sometimes lie—for instance, when I stopped at a gas station outside Boone and a bald, gun-totin’ guy with a Swastika tattoo raised the question, I told him that my parents own a dry cleaning business. But I usually tell the truth: that it symbolizes my pro-choice stance on abortion.
Before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, many used life-threatening methods to induce their own abortions: overdosing on drugs or alcohol, causing physical trauma to the stomach, or, at times, using a bent wire hanger to damage the uterus internally. Over the past several decades, the image of a hanger has been used as a reminder of how far we’ve come—and all we have to lose.
Some pro-choicers take issues with the hanger symbol, saying that it pushes the wrong rhetoric—in a 2019 Salon article, Amanda Marcotte wrote that the motif “gives conservatives the space to argue that it’s fine to police women’s private sexual behavior, deprive them of jobs and health care, and relegate them to second-class citizenship status, just so long as their physical bodies remain intact.”
Marcotte’s argument is valid; I agree that the hanger shouldn’t be the logo of the pro-choice movement.
But as a tattoo, I think it holds strength. Tattoos are an extremely common conversation starter, and my hanger has led to dozens of productive discussions—about mortality risks from self-induced abortions, but also about other facets of reproductive rights—with folks of many different beliefs (aside from the armed skinhead).
And now, we need to be having these conversations more than ever.
On Monday, Politico reported a leaked draft majority opinion from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that seeks to overrule the abortion rights afforded by Roe. Signed by four other justices, the draft states that the landmark 1972 ruling was “egregiously wrong from the start” and features “exceptionally weak” reasoning.
If the opinion is finalized, which is almost guaranteed to happen in several months, abortion protections—or lack thereof—will be entirely up to state legislatures.
At least 23 states have restrictive laws against abortion that are currently unenforceable but would immediately go into effect if Roe is overturned; some of these laws are leftover from the pre-Roe era, while others, known as “trigger laws,” were passed post-Roe and designed to make for speedy statewide bans in the event that ruling is reversed.
Many of these states are clustered in the Southeast and Midwest, which would limit options for those seeking to travel by car to receive the procedure legally; for example, an Alabama resident faced with a statewide ban would be surrounded by states with similarly restrictive laws, and might have to drive all the way to Illinois.
But depending on the results of upcoming elections, they may also have an option in closer proximity: North Carolina.
North Carolina has a decades-old law banning abortions after 20 weeks that, after previously being ruled unconstitutional, could soon go into effect, but at least while Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is in office, any attempts for a Murphy-to-Manteo ban by state lawmakers will likely be vetoed.
That said, if the GOP wins a supermajority in the NC legislature this November, Cooper will lose the power to veto a more restrictive ban. The path will be similarly cleared if a Republican is elected governor in 2024.
And depending on how this all plays out, lawmakers may have a say in more than just abortion rights, as it’s possible that overturning Roe will set off a chain of more rulings to reverse precedents. From the Politico article:
“Alito’s draft argues that rights protected by the Constitution but not explicitly mentioned in it – so-called unenumerated rights – must be strongly rooted in U.S. history and tradition. That form of analysis seems at odds with several of the court’s recent decisions, including many of its rulings backing gay rights.”
The right to same-sex marriage—as well as the right to birth control—could be on the line.
In blue states like California and New York, these rights, and the right to abortion, will almost certainly remain protected. Those with the means to relocate or travel hundreds of miles will still have a place to go.
But marginalized, low-income populations won’t be afforded the same option.
If Roe is overturned, these populations will be forced to carry unsafe pregnancies to term, raise children that they don’t want or can’t support financially, and bear the offspring of their assaulters. And, as seen after Texas’s recent move to criminalize abortion, some may put themselves in danger by attempting the procedure themselves.
The decision is not yet final. Some, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have called on Congress to quickly pass legislation that writes Roe into law, but given that this would require ending the filibuster rule, it’s not likely to happen in time.
The News & Observer’s Editorial Board yesterday called on North Carolina to codify abortion rights in the state constitution, as California is preparing to do.
On an individual level, there are some simple ways to take action right now: Vote in the primary and general elections. Donate to on-the-ground providers. Stay informed, and keep those around you informed.
For more ways to prepare yourself and make an impact, check out this Handbook for a Post-Roe America.
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Follow Staff Writer Lena Geller on Twitter or send an email to email@example.com.