Whenever I hear a euphemism for the word “abortion,” my ears perk up. Which means they perked up today when I got a press release about a new Austin billboard from UltraViolet, a group “mobilized to fight sexism and expand women’s rights.”
The billboard implores the state health department not to “turn lies into laws,” and asserts in all-caps that “Women considering reproductive healthcare deserve medically accurate, unbiased information.”
See, the Texas Department of State Health Services is currently revising language in the booklet that Texas forces doctors to hand out to their patients 24 hours before they’re allowed to provide an abortion (during the same appointment when doctors must perform an ultrasound). The information, commonly called the “Woman’s Right to Know” booklet, contains all kinds of anti-science, medically inaccurate malarkey about abortion — including wholly false claims about abortion causing breast cancer. Now, the health department is trying to make the booklet malarkey-er. (You can hear more about it on this week’s Texas Miracle podcast.)
But look: This state-mandated abortion booklet is meant to deter people from choosing abortion. You’ll only get the booklet if you’re considering abortion. Doctors don’t have to give the booklet to somebody, say, getting an IUD or a mammogram. Abortion is the entire reason for its existence.
So it seemed kind of weird for a billboard about abortion to not say the word abortion and use “reproductive healthcare” instead. Certainly abortion is reproductive health care, but even pro-choice politicians and reproductive rights orgs can be cagey about using the word “abortion,” replacing it with wink-wink words and phrases like “women’s health care” and, yes, “reproductive health care” — so much so that entire other reproductive rights orgs exist to destigmatize it.
I ungenerously assumed the problem was on UltraViolet’s end. When I asked for more info, they set me straight, saying that Reagan Outdoor Advertising, which owns the billboard at 53rd Street and Airport Boulevard in North Central Austin, wouldn’t agree to run the ad with the word “abortion” in it. So UltraViolet changed “abortion” to “reproductive healthcare.”
agreed. Unfortunately the billboard company rejected our 1st ad & we had to edit. We agree that abortion stigma needs to end!
— UltraViolet (@UltraViolet) August 1, 2016
I called Reagan for comment and got as far as company president Billy Reagan’s assistant, who said she’d have Reagan call me back. When I hear from him, I’ll let y’all know.
In the meantime, it’s worth contemplating the long and storied history of abortion-related roadside signage — mostly anti-abortion, that is. A group called Prolife Across America sponsors a series of particularly weird ones with babies dressed up as bikers and, creepily, as topless objects of desire, that seem like they’ve dotted Texas roads for practically as long as I’ve been driving on them. But they’re hardly unique to Texas or even the South, and there’s plenty of atrocious graphic design and shamey, patronizing language to go around.