Arkansas billboard part of campaign offering support to women who have had abortions

The activist group Shout Your Abortion recently posted six billboards along Interstate 55, which runs through five states that have banned most abortions. (Kristen Archer/ARCHd/Washington Post)
The activist group Shout Your Abortion recently posted six billboards along Interstate 55, which runs through five states that have banned most abortions. (Kristen Archer/ARCHd/Washington Post)

For the past few weeks, drivers traveling through Arkansas on Interstate 55 could see a large billboard that read "Abortion is OK," and "You are loved."

Since Aug. 22, the sign near Marion had been one of six billboards along the highway running through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri -- all states where abortion is banned -- and Illinois, where it's still legal, with supportive messages about abortion.

The campaign was created by Shout Your Abortion, a nonprofit organization that has orchestrated numerous abortion support campaigns since its inception in 2015.

Amelia Bonow, the group's co-founder and executive director, created the campaign to "take back the space on that interstate that is covered with these just intentionally traumatizing, super-shaming, negative, judgmental, often disturbing anti-abortion billboards," she said.

"The entire south of Interstate 55 is a route that's taken by tens of thousands of people at this point, who are leaving the South to access abortion care in Illinois, which is essentially like the southernmost point of legal access for, like, the entire South," she said.

The other billboards read "God's Plan Includes Abortion" and "Abortion is OK. You know what's right for you."

All six billboards were originally set to come down Friday, but four have been extended for another month after Shout Your Abortion crowdfunded money to keep them up.

The billboard in Arkansas had already been rented out, so it could not be extended.

Its presence was surprising to Karen Musick, founder of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, which helps women get abortions outside the state.

In the past, the nonprofit has had difficulty getting placing messages on billboards in Arkansas, she said.

"What I'm particularly surprised about is they were able to find a billboard company that would put it up. And if we could find a billboard company that would put up something for us, we would," Musick said.

She said the group's efforts to place messages on Arkansas billboards were rejected by three companies, despite her seeing "pro-life billboards everywhere."

Lamar Advertising, owner of the Arkansas billboard that was a part of the Shout Your Abortion campaign, does not have any restrictions against pro- or anti-abortion messaging, a company employee said.

For Arkansas Right to Life, getting advertisements on billboards has never been a challenge, Rose Mimms, the group's executive director, said.

"When I first got started back in 1993, we had a billboard that said, 'Kill her now, and it's called murder, but kill her three months ago, and it's called abortion,' with a picture of a 3-month old baby," Mimms said.

Since 2019, the group has been working on a campaign to place billboards in all 75 counties of the state and has successfully rented or bought out billboards in 32 of those.

Since Arkansas' near total abortion ban took effect last year, she said, the billboards have been focused on the the state's safe haven law, which allows a parent to surrender a baby 30 days or younger to a hospital emergency room, law enforcement agency, fire department or "newborn safety device," also known as a baby box, without facing prosecution for endangering or abandoning the child.

Mimms said the challenge hasn't been acceptance of the messages. It's been finding places in rural areas to display them.

"It's just a constant search for places, but we've had some private landowners who have let us erect signs we've had," Mimms said.

"That's what we'd love to do in these places that don't have billboards," she added.

Ly is a Report for America Corps member.

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