A Manhattan Mini Storage billboard on Manhattan's West Side Highway is again stirring up both opprobrium and approbation.
A large sign at 44th Street and Twelfth Avenue shows a wire hanger with the words "Your closet space is shrinking as fast as her right to choose."
An earlier ad for the company read, "Your Closet's Scarier Than Bush's Agenda."
The president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, William Donohue, told The New York Sun the sign was "insulting and highly offensive." The president of a Manhattan-based nonprofit organization, Morality in Media, Robert Peters, said he did not know why the company would want to turn away a significant number of potential customers, such as immigrants from more conservative cultures. But the associate vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of New York City, Roger Rathman, applauded the billboard. "We think it's fabulous," he said. "We salute Manhattan Mini Storage for helping to make New Yorkers as aware as we are of the growing restrictions on reproductive freedom in this country."
Most Manhattan residents support abortion rights, a spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice America, Mary Alice Carr, said. She said it is great when a company wears "its pro-choice values on its sleeve — or on its building."
The founder of the public relations firm Flatiron Communications, Peter Himler, said that if he were part of an advertising campaign, he would advise against using this particular issue, which is "so divisive," to promote a client's commercial interest. He said he found the billboard "in poor taste and shortsighted."
But Mr. Himler, who runs a blog on public relations called "The Flack," noted that the past few years have seen more "p.r. minds" in advertising using subjects of controversy to provoke news coverage. It gives the advertising have "more legs," he said.
Passers-by had mixed reactions. "I have no problem with it," Claudia Citernino, 55, said. She added that it was not as shocking as a lot of other things one sees.
Another pedestrian, James Britt, 37, thought there was something wrong with making fun of such a subject, while Hannah Ryan said it was a little tasteless but added, "I guess it must work, though — it's catching people's attention." An adjunct professor of communications at New York University, Gene Secunda, appeared to agree: "The first job of advertisement is to command attention. This one does that. It pushes the edge, but not in an extreme manner."
"You certainly wouldn't see the sign in Kansas," a professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, Theodore Joyce, said. Mr. Joyce, who has studied the effect of parental notification laws, said he had never seen a large company such as Wal-Mart seek to get in the middle of a contentious issue like abortion.
The editor of the First Things, a conservative-leaning journal of religion and culture, Joseph Bottum, said Manhattan Mini Storage must have had a pretty good idea that the sign was not going to hurt it. "One of the things that has helped American democracy survive is the fact that commercial enterprises have not generally entered the political arena," he said. An assistant to the president of Edison Properties, which owns Manhattan Mini Storage, referred the Sun to a vice president of marketing, Stacy Stewart, who did not return a call for comment.