By Dave Andrusko
The headline of a story that appeared on AOL News last week read, “From New York to Midwest to South, Abortion Battle Heats Up.” And that is surely the truth. The fight to save the unborn has gone nationwide.
The New York reference was to a successful intimidation campaign that resulted in the owner of a billboard space pulling a thought-provoking ad featuring a young African-American girl with the tagline, “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”
(It could also have referred to a second front on the intimidation front, an assault by the New York City Council on Crisis Pregnancy Centers. See Part Two.)
The Texas-based pro-life group Life Always rented the 29 feet high and 16 feet wide space not that far from a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, reason enough to squelch their free speech rights. As several people, including Clyde Haberman writing in the New York Times, have noted, the owner of the space cited safety concerns in yanking the ad. We’ll get to that in second.
In lambasting the city’s limitless self-congratulatory pose “as the most tolerant of cities, a place where one may express any thought freely,” Haberman cut to the chase . Well, yes, “as long as that idea parallels popular opinion.”
And was the billboard “Out of step with mainstream thought in New York?,” he asked. “For sure. And so, a few days ago in this most tolerant of cities, a raft of elected officials wasted no time calling for the billboard’s removal. Lickety-split, the sign came down.”
Several themes had come together, starting with an effort earlier this year to highlight New York City’s abortion trainwreck—41% overall, and almost exactly 60% among African-American women—and February being Black History Month.
Somehow, we are to believe, vividly making the true statement that in 2009 three Black babies were aborted in NY City for every two that are born isn’t in the spirit of Black History Month.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan was among those civic and religious leaders who tried to draw attention to the extraordinary number of abortions in NY City (www.nrlc.org/News_and_Views/Jan2011/nv010711part2.html). Writing on his blog recently, Archbishop Dolan asked pointedly what it was “that moved many of our elected officials to condemn this ad and call for the gag order?”
“Are they claiming that free speech is a right enjoyed only by those who favor abortion or their pet causes?,” he wrote.”Do they believe that unpleasant and disturbing truths should not be spoken?”
“Or,” he added, “are they afraid that when people are finally confronted with the reality of the horror of abortion, and with the toll that it is taking in our city, particularly in our African-American community, that they will be moved to defend innocent, unborn, human life?”
When a representative of the agency that controls the billboard talked to the New York Times he made a very interesting point. He said he was not flooded with requests for the ad’s removal, but was worried because one objector had harassed the staff of the Mexican restaurant below the sigh. “I don’t want any violence to happen around the buildings there,” said Pete Costanza.
Of course the censors had to insist that this was not political correctness on steroids. Or, as Ken Wheaton, writing at Ad Age put it, “Of course, leave it to a politician to spin this into some victory for public debate.”
Wheaton quotes from Haberman’s column.
“Bill de Blasio, the public advocate and one of the influential figures who demanded removal of the anti-abortion billboard, saw no assault on free speech. “There should never be a law prohibiting this sort of sign, Mr. de Blasio said, ‘but to have a serious debate, to have people express their outrage, and then to have a private owner of the advertising space decide that it was ultimately not appropriate, that to me is a functioning democracy.’”
That this “private owner” came to this decision, not out of some lofty weighing of competing goods but because of pressure and the threat of violence, seems to have been conveniently lost on Mr. deBlasio.
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