Last December, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case about a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — a challenge to precedents set by Roe v. Wade, which protects women’s rights to abortion prior to fetal viability, at about 22 to 24 weeks. This year, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is poised to uphold the Mississippi ban, effectively overturning the landmark 1973 ruling and giving states free rein over women’s reproductive freedom.
If so, approximately 26 states are expected to prohibit or significantly curtail access to abortion, impacting at least 36 million women of reproductive age and other people who can become pregnant in the US.
The urgency of this ominous possibility was conveyed in flashing fuchsia neon outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC last week as part of “OURs,” a new public art project by artist Alicia Eggert and Planned Parenthood. Coinciding with the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the statements “Our Bodies,” “Our Futures,” and “Our Abortions” flashed one by one on the fluorescent sign, conceived as a nomadic installation that will now travel to states where abortion rights hang in the balance.
“In making this sign, and thinking about what it should say, the interchangeability of those three words — ‘bodies,’ ‘futures,’ and ‘abortions’ — made me realize how connected and inseparable they are,” Eggert told Hyperallergic. “We can’t have control over our futures without having access to abortion.”
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health is far from the first attempt to undercut the nation’s hard-fought gains in reproductive freedom. In fact, the Mississippi case is part of a wave of anti-abortion legislative efforts in recent decades that have intensified since the 2016 election of President Trump and the appointment of conservative Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. According to Planned Parenthood, nearly 600 abortion restrictions were introduced in 2021, with more than 100 were signed into law — a record number for any single year since the 1973 decision.
Notoriously, the Supreme Court last year upheld a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant, making the state the most restrictive in the country in terms of abortion access. Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the case “a disaster for the rule of law and a grave disservice to women in Texas.”
This week, Eggert’s timely installation will make its way to Ohio, where House Republicans recently proposed legislature that would allow for civil action to be brought against any individual who performs, induces, or aids in an abortion.
The artist, who is also a professor of studio art at the University of North Texas, said she felt a personal connection to the project.
“I live in a state where abortion access is already extremely restricted if not nonexistent, and so this issue was already really important to me because I feel like my rights are being threatened,” Eggert said. For her collaboration with Planned Parenthood, she adapted her existing practice of using neon lettering in conceptual works in order to vocalize “a critical issue at a critical time.”
A work of art may not play a role in swaying a judge’s opinion, but “OURs” will certainly catch the eyes of Americans who walk past it, citizens with the power to voice dissent and publicly advocate for their rights.
“It comes from a place of truth and urgency,” Eggert added. “I use commercial signage structure and formats as a way of communicating messages. Ultimately, signs in general call our attention and easily convey information; they get us to stop and pay attention and gain a new perspective. The medium really speaks to the message, it makes us notice this present moment.”