By Gabriela Resto-Montero and Patrick Hedlund
SOHO — An anti-abortion billboard that went up in SoHo earlier this week has drawn swift criticism from residents and officials for its racial targeting of minority women.
"The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb," reads the inflammatory ad sponsored by the Dallas-based pro-life group "Life Always."
The three-story billboard at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Watts Street features an elementary-school aged African-American girl looking out at viewers with a plaintive expression, wearing a bow in her hair and a sleeveless pink jumper dress. The ad directs passersby to the group's website, thatsabortion.com.
Life Always leader, Pastor Stephen Broden, who is African-American, said that his group intentionally released a billboard that would elicit a reaction.
"The black community is oblivious to what is going on with this practice," Broden, 58, said about abortion rates in the African-American community.
"This is far from hyperbole, these are facts and statistically back up that abortion is having an impact on the demography of African-Americans," he said.
According to New York City's latest Vital Statistics report with data from 2009, two out of five pregnancies in New York City end in an abortion, giving the city an overall abortion rate of 41 percent.
Among black women in New York City, the abortion rate is reportedly 59.8 percent, while the abortion rate for Hispanic women is 41.3 percent and the rate for white women is 20.4 percent. The rate for abortions among Asian women in New York is 22.7 percent.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn both criticized the ad, with de Blasio calling for it to come down.
"To refer to a woman's legal right to an abortion as a 'genocidal plot' is not only absurd, but it is offensive to women and to communities of color," Quinn wrote in a statement of Broden's claim that the high abortion rates among minority women amounted to genocide.
Mae Collazo, 38, who works across the street from the billboard, said she found the billboard incredibly offensive.
"I don't like it all, what is that supposed to mean?" said Collazo, who is African American, "It makes it sound like all we do is abort our children."
Collazo added that she didn't think the higher percentage of abortions registered for African American women in New York necessarily reflect what is actually going on in the community, and questioned the source of the statistics and whether abortions conducted at private clinics are included in the statistics.
But some passersby agreed with the ad.
Patti D'Agostini, 48, who works at the Door Youth Center on Broome Street, said she works with many teen mothers.
"I don't believe in abortion," D'Agostini said. "Kids shouldn't be having sex until they're 18 anyways."
Broden said his organization will remain in the city for another three weeks before kicking off similar ad campaigns in six other cities around the country.