NYC billboard about abortion’s dangers for blacks removed after threats, criticism

Prolife Soho Billboard Question Photo Credit Life Always CNA US Catholic News 2 25 11 The pro-life billboard that was erected by Life Always in SoHo

A New York City billboard which charged that abortion makes a mother’s womb the most dangerous place for American blacks has been removed because of criticism from local political leaders, harassment and fears of violence.

The announcement of the removal prompted strong disagreement from the billboard’s supporters.

“While this billboard causes a visceral reaction from many African Americans, it addresses a stubborn truth that 60 percent of black babies do not make it out of the womb. We must do something now,” commented Rev. Michel Faulkner of the Harlem-based New Horizon Church Ministry.

“Instead of challenging the design of the ad, we should ask why the message is true and how can we change the fact that the leading cause of death for African Americans is abortion.”

The billboard, sponsored by the group Life Always, measured 29 feet high and 16 feet wide and was erected on the night of Feb. 22. It depicted a young black girl beneath the phrase “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

It linked to the website The site criticizes abortion’s effects on the black community, offers pregnancy help information, and charges that Planned Parenthood targets minority neighborhoods with its abortion clinics.

The billboard was Life Always’ first in the state of New York. It was put up in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan about half a mile from one of New York City’s three Planned Parenthood abortion clinics.

Pete Costanza, the general manager for Lamar Advertising, said the billboard was being taken down because an objector to the billboard harassed the waiters and waitresses in the Mexican restaurant below the sign.

The restaurant has no affiliation with the billboard company or the pro-life group.

“I don’t want any violence to happen around the buildings there,” Costanza told the New York Times. His decision was not about politics, but safety, he remarked. He said he was not inundated by requests for the ad’s removal.

Lamar Advertising spokesman Hal Kilshaw told the New York Times that Costanza was worried about the safety of the restaurant staff and also about reports of a protest against the billboard.

Before the decision to remove the ad, New York City Council member Letitia James had planned to hold a news conference under the billboard with prominent clergyman Rev. Al Sharpton on Feb. 25.

James said she was outraged that its sponsors decided to post the billboard to coincide with Black History Month.

She had directed her staff to start an online petition seeking its removal and she asked the liberal activist group to publicize it.

The petition criticized the billboard’s “vitriolic language” and invoked the Arizona shootings committed by Jared Lee Loughner in January. It also cited an unnamed Planned Parenthood representative who called the billboard a “condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African-American women.”

Other elected officials also voiced criticism. City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn issued a statement objecting to the comparisons of abortion to genocide.

“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,” she said.

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City public advocate Bill de Blasio called for the billboard’s removal on Feb. 23, while the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University also wrote Costanza seeking its removal.

New York City Vital Statistics show that 59.8 percent of black pregnancies end in abortion, which means almost 1,500 babies are aborted for every 1,000 born alive.

“The reaction to this billboard is centered on trauma; abortion is traumatic, it is the emotional and physical trauma that women face after abortion that necessitates access to post-abortive healing services,” commented Life Always board member Pastor Steven Broden, who heads the Fair Park Bible Fellowship in Texas.

Life Always said it “strongly disagrees” with the decision to remove the billboard.

“(T)he billboard's message holds true, and truth has a place in the public square,” it said on Feb. 24. “The intent of the board is to call attention to the tragedy and the truth that abortion is outpacing life in the black community.”

The group said it respects all women and encourages those in need of pregnancy care to visit one of the city’s numerous pregnancy care centers which offer “hopeful alternatives” to abortion.

In January 2011, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York decried the city’s “chilling” abortion rate. A recent report found that 41 percent of all unborn babies there are killed in the womb. The city’s three Planned Parenthood abortion clinics reported nearly 17,000 abortions in 2010.

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