When Becca Nicke and Red Perez went back to work after Roe v. Wade was overturned, they felt the need to make their voices heard with the tools they had.
DAVENPORT, Iowa – Editor’s note: The video above was broadcast on July 11.
Becca Nicke and Red Perez were away from home in St. Louis.
On June 24, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Dobbs v. Jackson judgment, reversed Roe v. Wade, concluding that a pregnant woman’s right to an abortion was not constitutionally protected; returning the disputed legal issue to the state legislators.
Becca and Red are the owners of Abernathy’s, a small vintage clothing store in Downtown Davenport specializing in alternative women’s fashion. The small business has attracted attention because of a piece of art hanging in one of its windows.
The installation features thousands of hangers piled together in a vast mass of metal wire and sharp edges, inscribed with a sign that reads, “Vintage clothes, not vintage reproduction rights.”
The piece mentions the dark history of coat hanger abortion, a practice made notorious in countries where medical access to abortion is severely limited or outlawed. Laws like these can cause many women to take matters into their own hands, which often results in serious injury, health complications and even death.
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The combination of Becca and Red’s concern and their line of work gave them an idea.
“We were both so absorbed in what we could do because we wanted to do something to show our support, being pro-choice, and so I think we looked at each other and were like ‘hanger!'” said Beca.
“Working in a clothing store where there’s literally always an abundance of hangers, so it worked really naturally with working in retail and us being a retail store,” added Red. “It’s also nice to be able to do something at a time when you feel helpless, so it’s like, ‘So here’s something we can do. We can at least make art about it.”
The pair hope that people who may not know the full extent of the meaning and history behind the iconography of the coat hanger will learn something new from their art.
“Even as a young person, I would always see, as protest art, whether it’s old punk rock stickers or buttons, you know, a coat hanger with a cutout in it. Just because, I think, it symbolizes how dangerous it is that women don’t have a choice,” Becca said. “And I’m not sure if everyone understands it, but maybe our installation will make people at least curious enough to want to educate themselves further about it . And also, it’s good that it’s a little bit contained and that it’s not like a graphic, but obviously, if people know what it symbolizes, it can definitely be a sticking point for people.”
And it is this more artistic expression of their point of view that gives their voice more power and meaning
“Sometimes, you’d like to drive into like rural counties, and you see, like, political billboards and stuff, and I think I’ve always known that a billboard isn’t going to change anybody’s mind, and I don’t think that that’s necessarily our ultimate goal,” Becca said. “But I just think more than anything, people who feel like they might be alone or feel like their voice isn’t being heard. They know where we stand as a business; that we support them in making elections. So I don’t think so. not necessarily to shake anybody up, but just to let people know where we are.”
It also means that Abernathy’s, as a business, is more transparent about its values and where its money goes after sales.
When it comes to the people who reside on the other side of the debate, Becca and Red just want to walk down the hall, strike up a conversation, and stay respectful.
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“I think anybody, anybody, whether you’re a pro-choice supporter or you’re a pro-life supporter; I hope that seeing it makes a difference for you. So hopefully you can do more research and form your own opinion,” said Red.
“Even the people who disagreed with us; they respectfully disagree and you don’t know, come in here getting fired up by the storm or something. We’re very lucky.” adds Beka.
The pair say the only harassment they’ve received came from one person online, and they believe they’re not saying anything they really believe either.
Additionally, the feedback and support they have received from like-minded customers and community members is something they have been grateful for.
“I think people have been thankful or appreciative that we’ve taken a stand,” Red said. “I think, maybe, a lot of businesses do it more privately. So I think it’s different and that’s how we’ve influenced, the pictures of the place, of the window that I’ve seen going around, so it must have had an influence somehow with someone.”
“And other businesses come up to us and say they’ve seen us, you know, take a stand and that’s encouraged them,” Becca added. “So it’s a big deal. But I think at the end of the day, maybe if it meant nothing to anybody, it definitely meant something to us, and we actually did it. That’s why, first and then anyone who positively impacts beyond that, I’m super grateful for it.”
The pair said they want to keep talking about their causes and would be interested in using the window for other messages if they feel strongly about another issue they want to talk about.
“It’s interesting that we were talking like, at least we have this platform to be able to express ourselves. We had to literally build the platform, but we’ve been approached by other nonprofits, like ‘hey, are you going to you’re interested in doing this kind of thing,’ and if it’s something that aligns with our values, we’re definitely interested in expanding its use as a platform, to lift others up for sure,” Becca said.
“It’s definitely a good way to be able to express ourselves, of course.”
Abernathy’s, which is currently holding its 20% off summer sale, is donating 5% of its sales through the end of July to Planned Parenthood.