The billboard is down, but the message has been sent, not least by all the attention given to the story in the media.
The anti-abortion organization, Life Always, bought the space on the billboard, which featured a picture of a young African-American girl, and the statement, “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” The billboard was in the elite area of Manhattan known as SoHo, known for its expensive boutique stores, galleries and restaurants. A Planned Parenthood center is also nearby.
The statement on the billboard may have been in reference to recently-released figures which indicated that the rate of abortion amongst black women in New York is 59.8% (the overall rate amongst all pregnant women was more than 40%). Nationally, while African-Americans constitute about 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 30% of abortions in the country (Guttmacher Institute). The persistently high rates of abortion amongst black women in America has led some to characterize the phenomenon as a silent genocide.
However, Bill de Blasio, New York City’s professional “Public Advocate” (who is white), is quoted as stating, “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.”
The general manager of the advertising company that pulled the billboard, Peter Costanza, is quoted:
Why did I take it down? Yesterday, somebody came into the restaurant harassing the waiters and waitresses. I don’t want any violence to happen around the buildings there.
There is a Mexican restaurant located below the billboard. Obviously the restaurant has nothing to do with the sign on the side of the building, which might just as well have been advertising Twinkies or Orbitz Travel.
Another spokesman for the advertising company is further quoted:
We would have left it up. But Peter has become concerned because the wait staff in the restaurant below was harassed by people who objected to the message. There were talks about a protest tomorrow, and he was worried about their safety.
That’s, well, interesting, isn’t it? Were the pro-abortion advocates, who we already know oppose the dissemination of information regarding the high rate of abortion amongst African-Americans, actually threatening the safety of the Mexican waiters and waitresses in the restaurant? If so, the tactic obviously worked.
One thing is clear enough from this episode: Although these advocates believe a woman’s right to choose abortion must be protected and encouraged at all costs, the right of women — and society in general — to openly discuss the implications of those choices is something else entirely. The billboard was provocative, but in the way that disturbing truths are always provocative.
The Rev. Michael Faulkner of Harlem’s New Horizon Church, who was supportive of the Life Always campaign, said in a statement:
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.
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 problem of abortion may be said to begin with unwanted pregnancy. That might be said to begin with the practice of sex outside of marriage, and it may also be said to be a problem of the non-use of contraception. Yet, contraception is widely available, and all the more so in those urban areas where the majority of abortions take place. It seems that abortion is being used all too often as the default method of “contraception.” Were it not as accessible as it is, and were it not promoted as a morally neutral choice, or even a choice to be proud of, perhaps this would not be the case. The message of the billboard is that the choice of abortion is not without wider implications.
In modern times (pretty much post-FDR), somewhere in the region of 90% of African-Americans who vote in the United States are assumed based on exit polls to vote for the Democrat in each election, apparently regardless of context and candidate. This has led some on the right of the political spectrum in America to opine (usually in private, or pseudonymously on the internet) that the high rate of abortion amongst black Americans is not something we should be unhappy about. Essentially the logic goes like this: The liberals are killing each other. We should just stand back and let them get on with it.
That reasoning has never persuaded me. Aside from the immorality of it (which really is enough), I don’t accept the inevitability of political results based on such demographic projections. We know, or should know, that even one exceptional individual can be the spark of momentous changes in a society, politically-speaking or otherwise. Therefore, think of it this way: Assume Roe v Wade, mandating an all-but-unlimited abortion license, had not been handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. Assume therefore that abortion had instead been available in the U.S. on a more limited basis, with varying laws from state to state. For the sake of argument, let’s say that instead of over one million abortions per year in the United States, there had been about four hundred thousand.
Consider the babies that would have been born. (We can’t know exactly how many, because some of those pregnancies might not have occurred in the absence of readily accessible and legal abortion services.) Who would these human beings have been? What would the country be like today with the contribution of all of these unknown individuals? I do not accept that the answer can be answered adequately by demographic generalizations alone. Exceptional individuals from that pool of babies who have never been born may have changed the country in ways that would make current political assumptions null and void.
We cannot know what and who we are losing with over a million abortions each year in the United States. If the provocative billboard story has made anyone think again about that fact, it has been well worth the trouble.
Addendum: And as if it should even be surprising: Two-thirds of New Yorkers themselves, including a majority of “pro-choice” women, believe the abortion rate is too high.