Obama’s image used in anti-abortion billboards

By Heather McGraw

“Every 21 minutes our next future leader is aborted,” reads a billboard featuring President Barack Obama’s profile as a new anti-abortion ad campaign got underway last week in some of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods.

Life Always, a nonprofit anti-abortion organization founded in Texas in the beginning of 2011, unveiled three of its 30 new billboard advertisements at a press conference at an empty lot at 58th and State streets on March 29. All 30 billboards are now up.

“Our intent is to bring information and education to the community,” said Pastor Stephen Broden, founding board member of Life Always. “We believe the practice of abortion is such a sensitive area most people don’t want to talk about it, but we need to talk about it.”

The billboards are the latest addition to the group’s campaign focused on low-income, primarily black communities, such as Chicago’s South Side and adjacent parts of the West Side.

According to Broden, these communities are targeted because of the impact abortion has on that population.

“They’re just unaware of how devastating this practice is and what it is doing in terms of our population numbers across the country,” Broden said.

In February 2011, Life Always started a similar ad campaign in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. Those billboards featured pictures of a young black girl and said, “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”

That billboard was later removed after the girl’s mother revealed she had not given the group permission to use her daughter’s photo in the advertisement.

The new Chicago billboards also received some opposition from abortion rights groups, like the Chicago Abortion Fund. Executive Director of CAF Gaylon Alcaraz was at the unveiling ceremony on March 22 because she said her group didn’t want the voices of Life Always to be the lone ones heard that day.

“That’s why we went out,” Alcaraz said. “Not necessarily to protest, but to make our presence known and talk to media to pass out press releases about out position on it.”

According to Alcaraz, CAF thinks the billboards are derogatory and condescending.

“It’s just wrong on a lot of different levels,” Alcaraz said. “We wanted to express our displeasure in these shock-value tactics that these outside organizations are coming in attempting to do.”

Obama’s image in the advertisements was used in a negative manner, according to Alcaraz. She said a speaker at the unveiling said the president’s picture was used because he is more recognizable to young people than Frederick Douglass or Stevie Wonder.

“[They’re] basically saying the people in this community are not educated, that we don’t know who those people are, who famous black people are,” Alcaraz said.

But Rev. Isaac Hayes, an anti-abortion activist who spoke at the unveiling and the president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Illinois, said the president’s image was used to draw a correlation between the high number of abortions in the black community and his position as leader of the free world.

“Putting his face there, which is very recognizable, it’s going to get people’s attention,” Hayes said. “I think most will get the point that it’s not in any way demeaning to the president. It’s very much honoring the president in saying we don’t know who the next leader may be and by terminating those pregnancies we cut off those possibilities.”

African-Americans make up slightly more than 12 percent of the total population but account for 37 percent of all abortions, according to Hayes. He also said black women choose abortion five times more often than white women.

“What genocide looks like is taking place in the black community,” Broden said. “[We have] a goal of activating a grassroots movement that will push back against the culture of death.”