Activism Works: Racist Billboard Comes Down

By Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director

Thanks to widespread public outrage — including organized efforts by the Women of Color Policy Network and the Trust Black Women Partnership — an inflammatory billboard lasted just two days in New York City. Paid for by the anti-reproductive rights group Life Always, the billboard showed a young African-American girl with a startling message above her head: “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

Unveiled on Feb. 23, the three-story tall advertisement was scheduled to hang on a building in lower Manhattan for three weeks, but the company that sold Life Always the space agreed to take it down today.

Trust Black Women spread the word on Facebook that the ad was “offensive, racist, sexist and — most of all — disrespectful of our decision making, our 400-year history of raising and caring for black children, and our human right to make health care choices for ourselves.”

This billboard is part of a larger strategy that attempts to use disparate abortion rates to shame women of color and discourage them from advocating for reproductive justice. The fact that Life Always used Black History Month as a reference in its press materials makes this tactic even more shameful.

New York City Council Member Letitia James had this to say: “Singling out African-Americans during Black History Month is particularly offensive, and to equate it with genocide and terrorism is really offensive to all New Yorkers.”

We only have to look at the current attacks on reproductive health care to see what’s going on. Poor and low-income women, of whom a disproportionate amount are women of color, often are the target of legislative efforts to curb access to abortion and all forms of family planning. And a lack of access to contraception can and does result in unplanned pregnancies.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which also spoke out against the billboard, stated: “Studies show that African American women and Latinas are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured and often lack basic access to birth control and comprehensive sex education due to fundamental structural inequities in society.”

Trust Black Women notes: “The disparity in abortion rates mirrors all other health care disparities in the black community from heart disease to infant mortality and diabetes. To isolate abortion as if it is not a part of health care is disrespectful and ill-informed. These disparities speak to root causes too often overlooked when talking about the black community: ‘a long history of racism, lack of access to high-quality, affordable health care, too few educational and professional opportunities, unequal access to safe, clean neighborhoods, and for some…a lingering mistrust of the medical community.'” [internal quote from physician Melissa Gilliam]

As we fight these assaults on reproductive rights, we must remember that women of color and low-income women are often the first and most affected by the radical right’s war on women. Stopping this war will save lives and empower women — something the group behind the billboard doesn’t want you to know.

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