A Texas anti-abortion group on Saturday defended its billboard campaign on Chicago's South Side that uses an image of President Barack Obama, while community groups said they hope to encourage residents to talk frankly about women's health in low-income neighborhoods.
Pastor Stephen Broden of Dallas-based Life Always said he stands by the signs, which are roughly half the size of a highway billboard and use popular colors from Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. They show his face with the message: "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted."
Broden said Obama's face was specifically chosen to target African-Americans on the city's South Side because it's where the disparity in abortion rates is occurring.
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"The highest level of success obtained by any African-American has been obtained by Barack Obama," he said. "We're simply saying to the community that we could be aborting the next leader of the free world. The next person who can contribute to humanity."
Broden said the space for 30 billboard signs were donated to the privately-funded organization, but he declined to name the donor. He said the organization launched in January and is composed of a small group of people.
The comments came shortly after dozens of people volunteered several hours to clean bottles and trash from a neglected lot in the Englewood neighborhood where several of the billboards hung.
When they came and just set up their stage, they did it on top of all the garbage," said Gaylon Alcarez, executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, which hosted the cleanup and a small door-to-door mobilization afterward. "They just set up and released all these billboards. So our thing is, let's go clean up that lot that they didn't care to clean up. Let's go out and do some community engagement."
ther volunteers expressed disapproval of using Obama's face because of his ties to Chicago.
This is Obama's neighborhood. Regardless of political affiliation, there's such a sense of pride, and it's personal that we have Obama in the White House," said 29-year-old Roxy Trudeau of the Women's Health Center. "It's like infiltrating someone's personal enthusiasm. It's like putting someone's grandma's picture up there."
Trudeau, who said she had an abortion, said she wasn't sure how she felt about volunteering in support of such a personal message.
"Several people in my life have had abortions, and people I don't know need access to abortions," she said. "It's their choice and it's their body."
Alcarez said it's the responsibility of community groups to engage residents about health care, low-cost birth control and other resources.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women accounted for more than 36 percent of U.S. abortions in 2007, the second highest in the nation.
Broden said he stands by his group's "confrontational truths" because of those statistics.
"We're being accused of race baiting. But the numbers are irrefutable and undeniable," Broden said. "I'm an African-American, and we're coming to the black community because we are a part of the black community."
Life Always made headlines with a New York City billboard in February that showed a black girl with the tagline, "The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb." An advertising company took it down shortly after some black residents said they were offensive.
Broden said the group has billboards planned for more than 10 cities around the country. He declined to name them.