Council Debates Sending Coat Hanger to Congressmen

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 03, 2009 - 09:13:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council will decide at its Dec. 8 council meeting whether to send a coat hanger along with a letter opposing the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the health reform bill to 20 congressional representatives who voted to approve the amendment. 

The amendment, which imposes tight restrictions on abortions offered through the public option and forbids anyone receiving a federal subsidy from purchasing a health insurance plan that covers abortion, was necessary to win support for the overall health bill from opponents of abortion, but it has since been the subject of a raging controversy nationwide. 

However, some councilmembers worry that sending a coat hanger itself might stir up controversy for Berkeley, and they are already recommending against it. 

“I opposed the Stupak-Pitts amendment, but I think the idea of sending a coat hanger to pro-choice members of the Congress is inappropriate,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “It may backfire. It may not help.” 

Wozniak said he had pulled the item from the consent calendar to action so that councilmembers could discuss the issue before acting on it.  

“This is a complicated problem,” he said. “They (lawmakers) are trying to work with opponents of abortion to get enough votes to move forward with the health reform bill. Sending a coat hanger will not change their mind. It’s a harsh symbol.” 

But to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who introduced the agenda item, the coat hanger sends a pointed, specific message to the 20 congressional representatives who usually vote “pro-choice” but supported Stupak-Pitts.  

“It’s the most extreme attack on a woman’s right to choose the entire time I have been in office,” Worthington said Wednesday. “We are not sending it to everyone. The 20 congressional representatives who voted for it have a history for voting for a woman’s right to choose, so we are sending it to them only. It’s great to send a letter, but I think it’s more effective to send a coat hanger.” 

Organizations ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to Planned Parenthood to the National Organization for Women have come out in opposition to Stupak-Pitts, with NOW calling it “the greatest threat to women’s fundamental right to choice since it was recognized under the Constitution in Roe v. Wade.”   

 “A coat hanger was historically used in back-alley abortions when women were not able to choose,” Worthington said. “A coat hanger is a very powerful symbol. The extraordinary nature of this threat calls for an extraordinary response.”