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Exhibit looks at life without reproductive rights

Remember the early 2000s, when the United States passed laws banning condoms and the pill, and sex was officially designated for reproductive purposes only?

Of course you don't — it never happened. But a new art exhibition in New York imagines what life would be like if it had.

"Museum of Banned Objects," at the Ace Hotel New York Gallery through April 30 (continuing online after that), looks at the history of "The Ban" from the vantage point of a dystopian future. The law — sweeping legislation in which all reproductive-health products and contraceptives were made illegal — took birth control underground.

Artists Ellie Sachs and Matt Starr, the museum's "curators," have assembled a collection of items that, while ordinary today, would be historical artifacts post-Ban, including condoms, birth control pills and bottles of the pre-exposure prophylaxis drug Truvada, used to prevent HIV infection. Each item is displayed in isolation along with a placard that delves into its history and use before it was made illegal.

If the museum is chilling, it's supposed to be. Sachs and Starr intend the installation, which they developed along with Planned Parenthood, to illuminate unnerving uncertainties about reproductive rights. It evokes memories of not-so-distant days in which contraception was illegal in many states and strict anti-obscenity laws made the frank discussion of sexuality — and sexual health — complicated. And its exploration of the erosion of protections for contraception raises questions about how safe those rights are today.

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Sachs and Starr say the point of their work is to drive social change and raise awareness about how close their fictitious world could be. Birth control isn't banned. But the power of the Museum of Banned Objects is in its plausibility.

Can't visit the free exhibition in New York? Do it virtually at museumofbannedobjects.com.

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