The DC Abortion Fund, a non-profit group that helps local low-income women afford abortion care, has been giving out coat hanger pendants to its donors for the past four years as a symbol of the dangerous methods women resort to when they are denied access to safe and legal abortion.
When the National Review discovered the pendants earlier this week, it set off a firestorm of conservative media outrage. Breitbart, The Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain and Bristol Palin were among the conservative outlets and bloggers who piled on.
"I honestly can’t believe that someone would celebrate the destruction of babies (boys, and YES millions of girls) as a fashion statement for feminists," Palin wrote in a blog post. "You know the phrase 'they wear their heart of their sleeves?' Well, I guess DC feminists love to wear death on their necks."
"This is either a very sick parody or a sad reality," tweeted Mike Warren, a staff writer at the Weekly Standard.
The coat hanger has for decades been a symbol of the reproductive rights movement. Before abortion was made legal in 1973, women looking to end their pregnancies would resort to desperate measures, including using coat hangers or other sharp objects to self-induce abortions.
Val Vilott, executive director of the DC Abortion Fund, told HuffPost she thinks it's "mystifying" that the pendants are making news right now. "It's an example of what happens when our opponents find something and grab onto it, and news media picks it up without doing any research," she said. "We're happy to get the extra attention, we're happy more people are learning about our work, but it's not news. The coat hanger pendants predate most of the people on our board."
Vilott said her group has seen an uptick in calls from women living in D.C., Maryland and Virginia who are desperate to end their pregnancies, but can't afford to travel to the nearest clinic or pay for the procedure. The new anti-abortion laws in the region, including strict building requirements on abortion clinics and Medicaid restrictions on abortion coverage, have made it even more difficult for local women to access abortion care.
"We're going to provide funding regardless of what the conservative media has to say about the pendants," Vilott said. "The coat hangers aren't going anywhere, and we're not going anywhere."