As you've likely heard by now, last week, New York City became the latest stop on the campaign trail for an anti-abortion initiative that aims to convince African Americans that legalized abortion is a racialized threat. A billboard once hanging at the corner of Watts and 6th Avenue, in Soho, featured the image of a young African American girl, above whose head dangled these disturbing words: "The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb." Not coincidentally, the billboard was situated less than half a mile from a Planned Parenthood facility.
The campaign's goal, organizers from the group behind the ads will tell you, is to cast abortion as a "genocidal plot" to destroy the Black community -- and they're taking their message nationwide. Last year they launched similar advertising attacks in Georgia, where Ms. Foundation grantees SPARK Reproductive Justice Now and SisterSong led valiant efforts to challenge the campaign's dangerous rhetoric.
Now it's time to add another grantee to the list of organizations successfully shutting the door on this racist campaign: on Thursday of last week, WOCPN was able to report that they, too, had pushed back against the companies involved in placing these ads -- and won! In response to a letter sent by WOCPN to Lamar Billboards (the company that owns the ad space where the billboard was hanging), WOCPN received word from the company that the billboard would be taken down -- immediately. On Thursday night, a crane removed the offensive ad from its downtown location.
C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of WOCPN, stressed the role that the collective efforts of numerous organizations played in achieving this victory. "I truly believe," Mason wrote in an alert to constituents about the win, "that our collective quick action, phone calls and letters to the company are directly responsible for their decision to pull the ad."
We're thrilled to be able to celebrate the removal of this ad from the New York City streets -- but we know the fight is not yet over. We find these ads attacking African American women both utterly reprehensible and undeniably racist. They represent yet another assault on poor women of color by seeking to limit their access not merely to abortion services, but to the other 97% of preventive health care services Planned Parenthood provides. The group behind these ads is attempting to scare Black women away from accessing the reproductive and preventative health resources many of them so desperately need -- an act that should be criminal, given that it puts women's lives at risk.
Better than anyone else, Black women know what is best for their bodies and their lives, and they must be trusted to decide, individually, which reproductive choices are right for them. Today, we can be pleased that one company eventually understood the racism and sexism implicit in this campaign (or the threat to their bottom line) and chose to stand on the side of decency. But the struggle to make sure that women's voices and perspectives are respected and heard continues on. With organizations like WOCPN, SPARK and SisterSong leading the charge, we have no doubt that reproductive justice will prevail.
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