Coat Hangers Used in Abortion Protest

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Coat Hangers Used in Abortion Protest

Newspaper article

By: Anonymous

Date: September 8, 1977

Source: "Coat Hangers Used in Abortion Protest." New York Times (September 8, 1977).

About the Author: The New York Times Company produces the national newspapers the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, and other local newspapers. Writers, photographers, and cartoonists published in the New York Times, founded in 1851 as the New-York Daily Times, have earned a combined total of 116 Pulitzer Prizes.


The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade found state laws banning and restricting abortion unconstitutional. In 1973, the first year that abortion was legal, the Centers for Disease Control reported 615,000 legal abortions; in 1990, the number peaked at 1.4 million, and fell by 2002 to approximately 854,000. Women seeking illegal abortions in states that outlawed the procedure before the Roe v. Wade decision faced difficulty finding qualified providers, experienced increased infection rates, avoided seeking medical attention for complications from fear of criminal charges, and an estimated 800–1,000 women died each year from complications resulting from illegal abortions.

After Roe v. Wade, state and federal funding for abortions became a critical question in the abortion rights debate. Legalization of abortion helped to lower the price of abortions; black market rates ran as high as $1,000 before legalization. While prices dropped and safety increased, lower income women still were unable to afford abortions, and activists looked to federal and state programs for abortion funds. From 1973 to 1976, Medicaid covered abortions.

In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, named for Representative Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois. The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother. Approximately 11.5 percent of all women of reproductive age in the United States are covered by Medicaid; for those women, federal funding is prohibited by law for abortion on demand.

In this article from the New York Times, written the year after the Hyde Amendment's passage, abortion rights activists used coat hangers, a symbol of one method women used to perform abortions on themselves before abortion was legal, to drive home their point that using federal funds for abortion would help lower-income women to access safer abortions.


Advocates of Federal funding of abortions delivered about 200 metal coat hangers to a key congressman today as a reminder of the way some abortions used to be performed.

Karen Mulhauser, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, and about a dozen other league members, delivered the hangers in person to Representative Daniel J. Flood, Democrat of Pennsylvania, chairman of a Labor and Health, Education and Welfare subcommittee that has jurisdiction over Medicaid funding.

The women conceded that their tactic was emotional but said that some women could resort to the hanger method of ending an unwanted pregnancy if Congress deprived them of the right to a Medicaid-funded abortion.

They said they wanted Mr. Flood to alter his position and help broaden the conditions under which the Government would pay for abortions for poor women.

Mr. Flood heads the House conferees who, with counterparts from the Senate, must recommend a set of conditions to Congress for inclusion in a H.E.W.-Labor funding bill for the fiscal year 1978.

The House has agreed to a position proposed by Mr. Flood that Federal funds should be denied for any abortion unless the life of the woman is jeopardized by a full-term pregnancy. The Senate is maintaining that abortion funding should be restricted to cases of rape, incest or "where medically necessary."


After the 1976 Hyde Amendment was enacted, Congress continued to pass restrictions on federal funding for abortion. Hawaii, Maryland, Washington, and New York provided state funds for abortion voluntarily, while thirteen states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia all experienced court cases in which state courts determined that state funding of abortions was in line with their state constitutions. Thirty-two states comply with the Hyde Amendment and provide funding for abortion in accordance with the rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother restrictions. South Dakota is the only state in the nation that refuses to provide funding for any abortions.

The specific parameters of the Hyde Amendment have changed over time. In 1979, the life of the mother exception was excluded, and, in 1981, the exceptions for rape and incest were excluded as well. A 1993 policy change reinstated the Hyde Amendment in its original 1976 format.

The 1977 protests and future protests by abortion rights activists have had some effect on the state level, but the federal government continued to restrict abortion funding. The 1997 Balanced Budget Act permitted Health Maintenance Organizations and other health insurance providers to decline coverage for abortion-related services, if the organization objected on moral or religious grounds. This permitted private providers, such as Catholic Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), to restrict funding for abortion-related services.

Supporters of federal funding for abortions point to studies that show that twenty to thirty-five percent of all women on Medicaid who carry pregnancies to term would choose abortion if the procedure were covered. Opponents point to the same statistics to bolster their claims that abortion is a moral issue and a medically elective procedure that should not be performed at the taxpayers' expense. As of 2006, the Hyde Amendment remained in effect in full, with the restriction on federal funding for abortions intact for thirty years.



Hull, N. E. H., and Peter Charles Hoffer. Roe V. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001.

Solinger, Rickie. Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950–2000. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Weddington, Sarah. A Question of Choice. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Web sites

Justicia: U.S. Supreme Court Center. "Roe v. Wade. 410 U.S. 113 (1973)." <> (accessed May 17, 2006).

NARAL Pro-Choice America. <> (accessed May 17, 2006).

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Coat Hangers Used in Abortion Protest

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