Ga. Billboards Spark Debate Over Abortion And Race Across Atlanta, a billboard campaign that calls black children "an endangered species" is raising questions over whether abortion providers target minority communities. Critics say the campaign fails to recognize the tough circumstances facing many black women when they decide to end a pregnancy.
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Ga. Billboards Spark Debate Over Abortion And Race

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Ga. Billboards Spark Debate Over Abortion And Race

Ga. Billboards Spark Debate Over Abortion And Race

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Across Atlanta, billboards are going up with this message, clearly intended to shock: Black children are an endangered species. The billboards have sparked a debate in Georgia over whether those who provide abortions are targeting minority communities.

NPRs Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR: On the billboard is a black-and-white photo, a close-up of a black toddler's face. He looks troubled, nearly in tears. The caption, in bold letters, reads: Black children are an endangered species. Catherine Davis, with Georgia Right to Life, says the billboards are meant to grab people's attention.

Ms. CATHERINE DAVIS (Director of Minority Outreach, Georgia Right to Life): They don't know the impact that abortion is having on the black community, and so we wanted to awaken the community to the holocaustic impact abortion has had.

LOHR: The billboards have raised the ire of some who live here.

Ms. HEIDI WILLIAMSON (National Policy Coordinator, SisterSong): Its incredibly offensive, and its just horrific to have to drive by it every day.

LOHR: Heidi Williamson is with SisterSong, a reproductive-health group for women of color. According to the CDC, in 2006 more than 50 percent of the abortions in Georgia were performed on black women, while African-Americans make up about 30 percent of the state's population.

While Williamson acknowledges the numbers, she sees the billboards as an attack on black women.

Ms. WILLIAMSON: The enemy is not black women. The enemy is poverty; the enemy is uninsured children and not properly funding education so that we can make sure that there are comprehensive sex-education programs and pregnancy prevention programs.

LOHR: Williamson says making a choice when and whether to have children is a womans right. About 60 billboards have gone up in Atlanta so far. Another 20 are expected by next week. They direct people to a pro-life Web site that claims abortion is an assault on the black community, and says Planned Parenthood and other clinics are targeting minorities to exterminate them.

Again, Catherine Davis with Georgia Right to Life.

Ms. DAVIS: I believe the abortion industry is advertising, theyre making it attractive, theyre framing it in terms of civil rights in order to pull this particular demographic into their abortuary. It happens every day.

LOHR: Abortion-rights activists deny the allegations. They say 86 percent of Georgia counties do not have an abortion provider. Of the 15 providers that exist, just four are in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

In addition to the billboard campaign, a bill filed this week in Georgia would make it a felony to solicit or coerce a woman to have an abortion based on the race, color or sex of a fetus or parent. Leola Reis, with Planned Parenthood of Georgia, says the law is just another attempt to restrict abortion.

Ms. LEOLA REIS (Vice President of External Affairs, Planned Parenthood of Georgia): I think that these kinds of bills are a real distraction from the overwhelming issues that we have in this state. I think that the community is going to become quickly tired of this kind of tactic.

LOHR: Law professor at Georgia State University Lynn Hogue says the bill violates the first amendment rights of clinics and womens right to privacy.

Professor LYNN HOGUE (Law, Georgia State University): Its absurd that the law would purport to identify certain reasons that you could not use or could not have as a reason for having an abortion. They may not appeal to everybody but certainly if, you know, the reason for having an abortion is you don't want to carry a pregnancy to term - and whatever reason shapes that decision is constitutionally protected.

LOHR: While the debate continues in Georgia, the Radiance Foundation, which created the billboards, says its in talks to expand the endangered species campaign to Washington, D.C., and perhaps to other cities.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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