Yesterday, Texas-based anti-abortion group Life Always erected a billboard targeted at African-American women on the corner of Watts and Sixth Avenue in New York’s upscale SoHo shopping district. According to the NY Times, Steven Broden, a pastor and Life Always board member, stated that the campaign is starting here in New York and will spread to other cities over the next few weeks. He added that a Black History Month start date was intentional, as to highlight the “disproportionate” number of Black women who terminate pregnancies each year.
The Times cites 2009 Department of Health statistics, which report an overall abortion rate of 41% and 59.8% for non-Hispanic Black women.
In a statement, city public advocate Bill de Blasio said, “This billboard simply doesn’t belong in New York City. The ad violates the values of New Yorkers and is grossly offensive to women and minorities.” He added, “A mix of intolerance and bad judgment put this ad up. Common decency demands it be taken down.”
In Wednesday’s press conference, which was described by the Times as “sparsely attended,” Reverend Michael J. Faulkner of Harlem’s New Horizon Church joined Broden in describing abortion as genocide and claimed the ad was not meant to attack one group of women. “This is not targeting black women. This is targeting the practice, and saying to black women, ‘If you find yourself in this crisis of an unexpected, unwanted pregnancy, there are alternatives,” he stated.
Broden stated that the billboard was placed in the “largely White” neighborhood, as opposed to areas in Brooklyn, Harlem or the Bronx that boast large Black populations, because it would be “the best way to get attention.” The family of the young girl pictured, who Broden described as a “prop”, contacted Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James to say that they were outraged by the poster and that they had been told the child’s image would be used in a different manner. The advertising company responsible for the ad claims that the family signed a standard picture release form.
City Councilwoman Christine C. Quinn, who represents the SoHo district where the billboard was placed, had harsh words for Life Always: “To refer to a woman’s legal right to an abortion as a ‘genocidal plot’ is not only absurd, but it is offensive to women and to communities of color. Every woman deserves the right to make health care decisions for herself, and I will continue to fight to protect this basic right and against this sort of fear mongering.”
The billboard sits only a few blocks from Planned Parenthood’s SoHo clinic, which the Life Always site refers to as an “abortion office”. Abortion accounts for only 3% of the visits to Planned Parenthood locations across the country each year. An official statement from the organization about the offensive ad states that the campaign is “an offensive and condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African-American women while attempting to discredit the work of Planned Parenthood.”
The statement goes on to say that in 2010, New York’s Planned Parenthood offices provided “71,000 STI tests, 56,000 family planning visits, 21,000 HIV tests, 19,000 contraception consultations and 12,000 cervical cancer screenings.” In addition, they deal with “tens of thousands of parents, caregivers, teens and community based organizations” through educational outreach initiatives. “The unintended pregnancy rate in New York City is impacted by a myriad of societal factors, including poverty, access to information and education, access to birth control, and intimate partner violence, among others.”
The statement quotes columnist Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal Constitution who stated, “It’s both sexist and racist to suggest that black women don’t have the intellectual and emotional firepower to make their own decisions.” In response to the emergence of these billboards in Los Angeles last month, Janette Robinson Flint, Executive Director of Black Women for Wellness, wrote “Black women stand at the intersection of racism and sexism in this country, and we face the pain of living at this crossroads every day. It is demonstrated by our health status — we suffer from some of the highest health disparities in Los Angeles County. Rather than allow outside agitators to barge in and try to divide us by scape-goating Black women for political gain, Black women’s organizations and our allies must come together to find solutions to ending the health disparities and crises we face.”