Just days after it was officially unveiled, a controversial anti-abortion billboard in SoHo was removed by the company that owns the billboard—but not because of its message, mind you! Representatives for Lamar Advertising say it was taken down because they were worried about the waiters and waitresses in the building's restaurant.
"We accepted the copy in accordance with our policy," company spokesman Hal Kilshaw tells CNN. "We believe in people's right to advertise, [we] thought it [the copy] was OK, [and] we stand behind that decision." Nevertheless, the billboard had to go, Kilshaw says, because the waitresses in the building's ground floor restaurant, Lupe's, were being harassed, and the company was very concerned about their safety. Peter Costanza, the general manager for Lamar Advertising, tells City Room, "Why did I take it down? Yesterday, somebody came into the restaurant harassing the waiters and waitresses. I don’t want any violence to happen around the buildings there."
This morning we spoke with Mateo, a cook at the restaurant who would only give his first name. He denied that anyone was harassed or threatened, but he said an unidentified man and woman came into the restaurant Tuesday and wanted to know who owned the billboard. "I said you have to speak to the owner [of the restaurant]," Mateo tells us. "They said it's going to be in the news and they need to know. I said, 'You do whatever you want, this is not my problem.'" Then they left and, according to Mateo, no one came in Lupe's to ask about the billboard again.
Speaking to Fox 5, Kilshaw elaborates, "We heard that there would be a protest tomorrow. There were concerns about problems for people who live or work in the area. That's why we chose to take it down. We are not taking the copy down because we don't think the copy should have been accepted in the first place or that it is too controversial." Al Sharpton has canceled the protest he'd planned for today (an unrelated rally against a House bill to cut funding to Planned Parenthood is happening downtown on Saturday). Yesterday, Sharpton said, "The billboard was offensive, especially during Black History Month."
In a statement, the group that paid for the billboard, Life Always, said it "strongly disagrees with Lamar Outdoor's decision to remove the billboard in SoHo, but the billboard's message holds true, and truth has a place in the public square. The intent of the board is to call attention to the tragedy and the truth that abortion is outpacing life in the black community. In 2009, according to New York City Vital Statistics [pdf], 59.82 percent of black pregnancies ended in abortion. 59.8 percent of black pregnancies ending in abortion means that 1,489 black babies are aborted in New York City for every 1,000 born alive."
Pastor Stephen Broden added, “The reaction to this billboard is centered on trauma; abortion is traumatic, it is the emotional and physical trauma that women face after abortion that necessitates access to post-abortive healing services."