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Billboard focused on African-American abortions was taken down

By Jordana Ossad, CNN
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Controversial billboard removed
  • Billboard on African-American abortion rates was put up over Soho restaurant
  • It read: "The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb"
  • Lamar Advertising said it was taken down for public safety reasons

New York (CNN) -- A New York billboard that focused exclusively on African-American abortion rates was taken down because of concerns for public safety, said Hal Kilshaw, spokesperson for Louisiana-based Lamar Advertising, on Thursday. The billboard was erected by group opposed to abortions.

The billboard was attached to a building that houses the restaurant Lupe's Kitchen. Some of the wait staff, Kilshaw said, were being harassed by patrons who objected to the billboard. In addition, a scheduled protest Friday by people opposed to the billboard prompted public safety concerns, which led to the company's decision.

Kilshaw said the controversy surrounding the billboard did not factor into the company's decision to take it down.

"We accepted the copy in accordance with our policy," Kilshaw said. "We believe in people's right to advertise, [we] thought it [the copy] was OK, [and] we stand behind that decision," Kilshaw said.

The sign, paid for by the organization Life Always, reads: "The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb."

The billboard, about a half mile from a Planned Parenthood facility in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood, featured an African-American girl.

"They're attacking women for choosing abortion while simultaneously destroying family planning," a spokeswoman Mary Alice Carr of NARAL Pro-Choice America said before the billboard was taken down. "Their hypocrisy is as large and as obnoxious as this billboard."

But Stephen Broden, a pastor and Life Always board member, told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday that "it's hard to celebrate Black History Month" with abortion "hanging over our community."

"Abortion is outpacing life in our community" and he said the billboard's message is meant to be a "provocative" way to illustrate the problem.

African-Americans have high abortion rates compared with other demographic groups, according to Rebecca Wind, a spokeswoman for the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research center for sexual and reproductive health.

The disparity is in part attributed to a "lack of adequate services" in many black communities, which "has resulted in more unintended pregnancies," Wind said.

According to the Life Always website, the move is an attempt "to raise public awareness of Life issues through advertising and raise truths about Life issues to educate and empower individuals."

The sign was part of a national campaign where more billboards will appear over the next couple of months across the country, Life Always spokeswoman Marissa Gabrysch said.

Calls to Life Always and NARAL Pro-Choice America were not returned Thursday evening after news of the billboard's removal broke.

Bill Donahue, Catholic League president, released a statement Thursday in support of the billboard.

"Life Always says it wants to raise public awareness of Planned Parenthood's war on black people. Good for them," he said.

Critics say the message is misleading.

"The issue is here they are doing a campaign, targeting one group of women and making them feel guilty and shameful about family choices that they are making," Carr said. "You can't take a woman and lift her out of her experience."

But the Rev. Derek A. McCoy, another Life Always board member, told reporters something needs to be done about abortion in the black community and this is "calling attention to a dramatic event."

"This is a truth and tragedy," he said.

Broden said "The child (in the billboard) was selected for her innocence."