Can You Save Abortion Clinics With Cuteness Overload?

In Ohio, where the anti-abortion landscape is increasingly hostile, activist Amanda Patton has launched a fierce ad campaign to troll GOP legislators—and funds it by selling adorbz kitteh T-shirts.

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Driving along the interstate from western Minnesota into the Twin Cities, you can’t help but see them all along the road: “My Heart Beat at 18 Days!” “I Have Fingerprints!” “Daddy’s Princess!” These cherubic, Anne Geddes-esque newborns, all chubby cheeks and blubbery skin folds, are meant to warm a pregnant person’s heart … all the way out to the next closest abortion clinic. Meanwhile, in southern cities or New York, dark, sinister billboards call out to people of color to protect Black children as an “Endangered Species.”

Now an abortion-rights activist and clinic worker in Columbus, Ohio, is taking action to step up the billboard game on the pro-choice side, and she’s doing it with the help of a hundred T-shirts and some pussy.

Pussy cats, that is.

Activist Amanda Patton is no stranger to the increasingly hostile landscape surrounding terminating a pregnancy in Ohio. A patient advocate at Founder’s Women’s Health Center (WHC) in Columbus, Patton has seen the effects of clinic closures and dwindling access both in her state and in the states surrounding it, as more patients are coming in for care.

“We see a lot of patients from all over, not just Columbus, coming in for care,” Patton told DAME Magazine. “From all different counties in Ohio, from Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, even Pennsylvania.”

Clinics offering abortions have been closing one by one by one across the state because of a 2013 budget amendment that changed the way that abortion providers could obtain variances on mandatory transfer agreements with local hospitals. Now, just nine clinics remain, a fact that Patton emphasizes in her new electronic billboard campaign—a series of six ads that promote legal abortion, remind patients they have the right to terminate a pregnancy, and offer Founder’s WHC as a place they can go to without fear or shame.

So what does all of this have to do with cute kitty T-shirts? It started with an inside joke about pro-choice people loving cats, according to Patton, who explains the backstory in a blog post at the Founder’s website. Patton purchased an url and found someone to create a logo for her pro-choice cats shirts (tagline: #LeaveMyPussyAlone). The T-shirt sales fund the ad campaign that appears on a strategically placed electronic billboard directly in the path of those who would be traveling to the state capital to cast votes restricting the right to access legal abortion.

Patton is by no means the first to create and purchase a billboard supporting reproductive rights. Earlier this year SisterReach countered the racist anti-abortion billboards in Tennessee with billboards imploring people to trust Black women with their own reproductive choices. Even in Ohio, UltraViolet launched a campaign to shame legislators for their opposition to abortion, purchasing a series of billboards across Columbus, including an electronic billboard ad. Patton’s decision was to focus all of their resources on just one corner leading to the capital:  She wanted to, as she put it “troll” the lawmakers as well as offer a series of messages reminding people that abortion is legal, it is a right, and that those who undergo it deserve shame-free, compassionate care. And Patton wanted to advertise her clinic as one of the few remaining options in the state.

“Everybody has to look at this billboard as they pass,” said Patton. “There’s no way to get around it. That’s one of the things I liked best. It’s not the same with television or the internet. You can’t ignore or avoid these ads. Everyone will look at this—even the legislators.”

And the billboard campaign did get attention. The first to respond? Ohio anti-abortion action group Created Equal. Unwilling to let the pro-choice messages go unanswered, the organization brought its own mobile billboard van and parked it underneath the sign, adding a graphic and bloody contrast to the pro-patient, positive ads.

“Our GIANT TV trailer has been hitting the streets of Columbus and the local universities for weeks,” Created Equal founder Mark Harrington told DAME Magazine via email. “We felt it would be worth countering the billboards with the reality of ‘choice’ by stopping in front of it for a while. These commuters will likely never see the obscure and ineffective pro-abortion messages on the static billboard. However, pedestrians, college students, and commuters cannot avoid our GIANT TV TRAILER when we hit the streets. Why?  Because we go to them rather than waiting for them to come to us!”

Patton’s ad campaign, due to limited financial resources, was a fleeting one—it only lasted a week. Which is rather symbolic in a state where clinics are each only one legal ruling or new restriction away from being closed down. It’s a fate to which Founder’s itself isn’t immune, even though currently they meet all requirements for operating. “Luckily at Founder’s we have a transfer agreement, but every year we need to renew the agreement it’s always a little scary,” said Patton. “It’s like, ‘Okay, we got the agreement for another year, but maybe next year is the year that Ohio Health [their hospital that offers the agreement] decides this is too controversial and we don’t want to be in the middle of it.’”

Still, Patton is eager to expand both her T-shirt program and, as a result, the billboard campaign. With enough backing, she hopes that she’ll be able to schedule the next series of ads to coincide with the beginning of the 2016 legislative session. Then, she believes, legislators will be a captive audience who will have to hear their arguments.

“I know legislators are going to see this as they go in [to the capitol],” said Patton. “With everything they have been doing, it doesn’t seem like they are listening to us. This is the one way we can ensure that we are being heard.”

“You can limit our committee testimony, but you are going to look at this billboard every day.”

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