A pro-life group is stirring controversy in San Francisco after putting up anti-abortion banners on the city's main thoroughfare in preparation for the annual Walk for Life West Coast event on Jan. 25. Although the banners carry the simple message of "abortion hurts women," one pro-abortion group is demanding they be taken down, saying they are a form of hate speech against women.
The 50 banners, installed on San Francisco's bustling Market Street recently by Walk for Life West Coast organizers, include the message "abortion hurts women" along with an advertisement for the upcoming Walk for Life event that reads: "Walk for Life West Coast. A New Tradition. A New Voice."
The banners are promoting San Francisco's tenth annual Walk for Life event on Jan. 25, where over 50,000 people have gathered in years past to march in opposition to abortion through the city's streets. The 50 banners lining Market Street will be seen by the thousands of walkers, as Market Street is the new route of the annual pro-life walk.
David Campos of the city's Board of Supervisors has sponsored a resolution asking the city to review its current process of approving public advertisements. Campos argues that the "Abortion Hurts Women" advertisements violate city policy because they are spreading misinformation about abortions.
"I think that we in government have a responsibility to be on record saying that, you know, in San Francisco we do trust women, we respect their right to decide for themselves and we're going to protect that right," Campos said.
"Not only is abortion one of the safest medical procedures in the United States, but denied abortion care is what hurts women," Campos added.
Ellen Shaffer, co-director of the Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign, a pro-abortion group, has also protested the banners. Shaffer previously wrote a letter to Mayor Ed Lee asking that the banners be removed because they contain "a false and hateful statement" regarding women's reproductive health. The mayor denied the group's request for banner removal, saying that the banners do not violate city code and removing them would be a violation of the First Amendment.
Walk for Life West Coast co-founder Eva Muntean argues that the banners are in complete accordance with the law and communicate the importance of the pro-life message. "We did everything legally, we did everything by the book," Muntean told ABC 7 News. "We met every criteria. There is no reason at all for this to be an issue right now."
Muntean went on to say that the sometimes hostile landscape of a city like San Francisco can prove difficult for groups toting messages that differ from what some residents believe. "One of the things that the city is always talking about is how tolerant they are and how they're open to all views," Muntean said. "And here we are with a view that's different than what some San Franciscans believe and they are trying to shut us down."
Addressing the controversy on their website, Walk for Life West Coast said it is "delighted with the publicity our banners have already generated. We urge all people of good will to join us on January 25 as we march in defense of the littlest among us. Our opponents seek to censor our message 'Abortion Hurts Women,' not because it is false but because it is true. We invite San Franciscans to attend the rally and Walk, and especially to attend the Silent No More Awareness campaign for post-abortive women at 10:45 AM in Civic Center Plaza, so that they may judge for themselves."
This is not the first time Walk for Life West Coast has encountered controversy over its advertising in the Bay Area. Back in 2009, the group put up a large billboard on US 80 that was viewed by hundreds of thousands of commuters. The billboard was soon vandalized by assailants with paintball guns, but the damage was not very noticeable from the highway.
In 2010, the group took out bus ads on the city's Golden Gate Transit buses to tote their pro-life message. In 2011, the group did a "Walk for Life Navy" advertisement by putting a giant pro-life banner on a yacht alongside the pro-life march's parade route.