‘Think you can do what you want with your body?’: vintage pro-choice ads – in pictures

In the late 90s, there was a fear that a new generation who had never known a pre-Roe world was unaware of the threat that abortion might once again become illegal in the US. A group of pro-choice activists came together with the imperative to push back against the notion that abortion rights were sacrosanct, and to motivate women to remain passionately engaged in the pro-choice struggle.

Their great fear was that, with people turning their attention to other battles, the enemies of Roe might gain the upper hand.

Starting in 1998, the group – including Naral, Planned Parenthood and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – began running ads warning of a dystopian future where Roe v Wade would be overturned. With vivid images, zeitgeist design and provocative language, the ad campaign was difficult to miss.

“If I don’t get under your skin and if I don’t push your buttons in some way, I’m just putting some paper out there,” says Ellis Verdi, president of Devito/Verdi, the agency that created the ads. “I need you to fight me in order to reduce your apathy.”

Using the imagery associated with backstreet abortions such as wire hangers and beat-up cars, the ads attempted to embody a bygone era. One image read: “Per order of the supreme court, any female who enters into a marriage shall be considered the property of her husband.” Another, with a design nod to Barbara Kruger, showed an image of a young woman with tattoos and piercings, warning, “Think you can do whatever you want with your body? Think again.”

Now, with the court seemingly poised to overturn Roe v Wade, the ads seem chilling and prophetic.

“My high school had the most pregnancies of any school in the country,” says Verdi. “In my teens I was arguing for daycare for these young women so that they could go to school. I actually won the argument and had the high school put in a daycare center. The biggest opposition was from the parents.”

Verdi says the campaign also made a splash. The funders were extremely enthusiastic and financed the campaign’s three-year run in cities across the US. And on-the-spot interviews of subway riders pre- and post-exposure to the ads showed heightened interest and involvement in pro-choice issues.

“I think everyone was feeling that, post–Roe v Wade, there was a tremendous increase in apathy,” says Verdi. “If you went to college campuses, the movement didn’t have the same support system. In an environment like that, you can pretty much assume it would be easier to pass legislation or overturn Roe.”




, ,

Comments are closed.