“Remedies for irregularities”

How do you advertise something illegal? Easy – take out a newspaper ad!


Let’s take a look a Vienna newspaper from 1914 – the Neue Wiener Journal: alongside adverts for piano tuners, dining room furniture, made-to-measure tailors and pawnbrokers are ads for “safe and completely harmless remedies for irregularities” and “real French remedies for women” promising “complete success”. “In a few hours you too will have relief”. If the unwanted condition is already too far advanced, there are midwives offering their services too – naturally very discreetly. Reading it today, the promise of “dead certain help” sends a shiver down the spine.

Although in Austria such adverts are happily a thing of the past, in Poland they are to be found daily in the newspapers since abortion was made illegal in 1993: advertisements for discreet assistance, after which menstruation would start again. Before 1975, Austrian women had to turn to abortionists who had neither the medical knowledge or the appropriate tools; Polish women can at least entrust themselves to trained gynaecologists who gained the relevant knowledge and experience before the procedure was banned.