Life Always anti-abortion billboard in SoHo targeting African-Americans drew criticism last month. The billboard, which has since been taken down, is part of a growing national campaign to deter Africans-Americans from having abortions.

For some anti-abortion groups, the new target is the African-American community—and they’re using billboards to get its attention.

The organization Life Always put up a billboard in SoHo last month featuring a young African-American girl and the words, “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb”—part of a growing national campaign to deter Africans-Americans from having an abortion.

“Our goal, our ambition is to go across America with these messages and to go into the large urban areas where there are sizable black populations and communicate our message to them,” said Life Always board member Stephen Broden.

Lamar Advertising took the sign down two days after it went up amid concerns for public safety. Yet Broden said the campaign still stands by its message.

“I am disappointed that those who made the biggest squawk about it, who made the largest protest against the sign, did not capture the essence of our message and that is abortion is decimating our community,” he said.

According to a 2007 Center for Disease Control’s Abortion Surveillance report, African-American women have the highest rate of abortion in the United States, with about 32 abortions per 1,000 women 15 to 44-years-old; Caucasian women have about 9 abortions per every 1,000, making African-American women three times more likely to have an abortion.

In New York City, the rates are even higher. According to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Bureau of Vital Statistics report for 2009, more than 40,000 induced abortions were among African-American women—almost twice the number of live births within the black community.

But a report released in January by the Guttmacher Institute says the majority of abortion clinics are not necessarily in African-American neighborhoods. The report found that “less than one in 10 abortion clinics are located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, or those in which the majority of residents are black.”

Ryan Bomberger, co-founder and creative director of the Radiance Foundation, which also uses billboards to promote an anti-abortion message, said the organization does not focus “solely on the black community; but when it comes to abortion, it is unavoidable to address where the most damage is being done.”

Bomberger developed the “Blacks are an Endangered Species” campaign, which began in Atlanta last year with 80 billboards. The signs displayed the face of an African-American baby and the message “Blacks are and Endangered Species, Toomanyaborted.com.”

The campaign is now in California with 70 billboards in the Los Angeles area, mostly in predominantly black neighborhoods.
The foundation has had similar campaigns in Arkansas, Texas and Wisconsin.

The billboards are funded through partnerships with local anti-abortion groups. Bomberger said the cost of each sign depends on the market where it is placed; the first campaign in Atlanta cost $20,000 and $6,000 in Los Angeles.

Several black public officials who spoke out against the SoHo billboard, including Rev. Al Sharpton, called its messages racist.

“The billboard was offensive, especially during Black History Month, and I had intended to hold a press conference Friday in front of the billboard to protest the message of racial profiling and against a woman’s right to choose,” Sharpton said in a press release.

Tolbert.mp3
Laverne Tolbert on how she became an anti-abortion activist.

La Verne Tolbert, the first African-American to serve on the Planned Parenthood board in the 1970s, supports the Radiance Foundation’s ad campaign. She initially believed in a woman’s right to choose. Yet as soon as she learned more about the practice of abortion, Tolbert said she became an anti-abortion supporter.

“Are black women targeted for abortion? Absolutely, yes,” Tolbert said.

During her time on the board, she said that tactics were used to sell the idea of abortion to the women. However she did not encounter any specific conversations about where to locate the health centers.

“I don’t recall any discussion about white vs. black communities,” Tolbert said. “It was always a discussion about the poor, and that is a catchall phrase for black.”