Monday, February 29, 2016


I don't really involve myself in the abortion debate, and so I'd grown accustomed to ignoring Prolife Across America's ubiquitous billboards when I drove past them. This one had initially caught my attention because it was the first of their billboards that I'd seen to feature so young a baby, a non-white child and an adult. But once the novelty had worn off, I fell back into my usual routine of not paying it any attention.

Until today, that is, when I noticed that the billboard had been vandalized. Vandalizing of political signage is a common occurrence around here - campaign season tends to escalate into tit-for-tat alteration (some of it quite creative) and destruction of candidate signs all over the place. But despite the fact that the PAA billboards were a regularly-recurring feature of the local landscape, this was the first time that I'd ever seen anyone target one.

My attention drawn back to the sign by the spray-painting of same, I started to consider the message. Originally, the billboard had read "Real men love babies." Now, I'm not a fan of using challenges to gender identity as leverage to alter people's behaviors, even for relatively unserious applications of it like this. But this struck me as a particularly blatant call to men to throw their weight around in their relationships. Sure, it takes two to tango, and I understand the idea that a potential father has something to say about whether or not a child is aborted, but the implication that the choice was ultimately in the hands of fathers struck me as misguided. And so the absence of the mother in the scene became all the more apparent. Especially given that the father and child in this billboard were Black, a first for the PAA billboards that I'd seen. Up until this point, the messages pretty much always showed smiling, happy, White toddlers, dressed up for their portraits and blandly pro-life messaging written from the child's POV, such as, "Daddy said I was an accident," or simply informative, such as "Heartbeat at 18 Days." (Prolife Across America loves to harp on that particular point; note the heart in the upper-left hand corner of this billboard.) So this was the first message that seemed to be aimed directly at the parents of unborn children, let alone fathers.

The replacement of "babies" with "choice" seems like an obvious idea. It works with the phrase, but it also works with the picture; after all, choice implies more than one possible outcome - having the choice to abort a fetus isn't the same as having an imperative to do so. It also has a more egalitarian vibe to it - you don't have to be the person making a choice to appreciate the idea that there is a choice.

I don't know how long the billboard will stay up, or how long it might be until someone replaces it with an unsullied one. I don't drive the stretch of road it stands on daily. But it made for some interesting thinking in its present state.


John McGuinness said...

Just as a point of clairification -- I don't think the purpose of targeting men with this campaign is that they are the ones with the ultimate say in the abortion decision, and thus should use it to push against abortion.

It is to confront the reality that many women choose abortion in response to pressure from their baby's fathers. It is a call for them to step up and accept responsibility, rather than pressure the mothers to abort.

It's probably not a perfect message, but then again people will find ways to twist any pro-life message into misogyny.

Aaron said...

People see messages, and the commentary on them, in the light they're most accustomed to seeing by, I suppose. Personally, I didn't see much in the way of misogyny in the message. Having worked in social services, I'm aware of the fact that many couples in the Black community are unstable, and a number of children are aborted because the mother can't bring them up by herself. Personally, it seems that concerning oneself with abortion without addressing that issue places the cart before the horse, but everyone has the issues that are most important to them.