Pro-choice signs on coat hangers on the fence around the U.S. Supreme Court

Abortion rights signs hang outside the U.S. Supreme Court in protest of the likelihood that the court will will overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion.

If you want to see some creative short-form storytelling, you can skip right past Twitter and TikTok and head straight to the news. Newspapers, news sites, TV news — any with cred are running images of demonstrations rising up in protest of the expectation that the U.S. Supreme Court will overrule legalized abortion. (I don’t mention radio here only because they can’t show images.) Many are carried by women in red handmaiden capes — a nod to the oppressed in Margaret Atwood’s not-so-futuristic novel. And the coat hanger has been revived as an iconic symbol for reasons as gruesome as they are historic; in the photo above, they go well beyond symbol to story — poignant profiles told in brief.

A lot of the protest signs are even more blatant. Their language is unabashed about the rage that’s been unleashed against the political and religious dogma and, frankly, the gender, of the movement against women’s reproductive freedom. A sampling:


Ah, “shit.” One of those words on the list of those we usually edit out of our coverage for taste and sensibility’s sake. No small percentage of protest signs have even more problematic words, like those beginning with F. One, which I wish I could find again, stated that if the sign-carrier had wanted to have politicians rule her womb, she would have F-ed one.

But there’s not a lot tasteful, or sensible, about what’s at stake here. This is about as fundamental and visceral as it gets. Which led to an interesting snapshot of this situation during a conversation with a newspaper editor friend.

What a difference a word makes

He called to “run the traps.” In other words, get reaction to a decision he faced about coverage of an abortion rights demonstration in his community. One of the photos showed a sign with the word “fucketh.” His decision on that one was unequivocal: No way. (Agreed, though I had to admire the clever play on biblical phrasing.) Another picture had him tangled up: It included the word “PENISES.” Interestingly, the sign was held by a man, with a message to legislators to regulate those if they really want to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. My editor friend was anticipating the blowback from the community if he ran that picture with that word.

I wish I could say I was more patient in my response. Instead, I sputtered. I reminded him that he had proudly run a recent story, on Page One above the fold, about an initiative in a local high school to provide free tampons — menstrual products — to young women. Then I asked if he would flinch at use of the words “uterus” or “vagina” in the newspaper. Well, of course not because…

Because why?

We’ve talked a few times since, trying to get at the heart of his reactive squeamishness and my reactive push-back. We are each struggling to explain ourselves to the other — an indication, I believe, that has roots in how our gendered realties play out in politics and society. But yesterday he pondered aloud that perhaps this is an example of how women have always been seen as handmaidens — objects, if you will — while men have protected their entitlement.

Even I can’t use the play on words that this led to, but we soon were both laughing. And he ran the photo.

Further Reading