Taking Down Billboards, Building Up Trust - Women's Foundation California

By Karla Rodriguez, Program Officer, Women’s Foundation of California

Every time I hold my baby girl in my arms, now six months old, I am overwhelmed with emotions as a new mother. I am amazed at my heart’s immense capacity to love so unconditionally. I feel deeply connected to all mothers who share this unbreakable bond with their child. I am grateful for my family, friends and health care providers who supported and cared for me throughout my pregnancy and made delivering a healthy baby girl possible. I feel privileged to have employment in today’s economy, which helps us to live comfortably and put a bit of money away for Lucia’s future.

I feel especially fortunate that my husband and I had complete trust and confidence in ourselves and each other to decide the timing of this transformative decision of becoming parents. When we first learned we were going to have a baby, we were ready (or as ready as you can be as new parents) and everyone around us was supportive of this new exciting chapter in our lives

It is with this new motherly love, pride and fierce protection for my child in my heart that I first learned of the  anti-choice bilingual billboards owned by CBS Outdoors. They were put up in early July in Los Angeles and declare that “The most dangerous place for a LATINO is in the womb.”As a Latina mother, I was outraged by these billboards stigmatizing Latinas as being incapable of making responsible family planning decisions. My anger was further fueled when the anti-choice campaign hit closer to my home with 60 billboards in Oakland. The Oakland billboards targeted African American communities and co-opted the phrase “Black & Beautiful,” a historically empowering mantra in the African American community.

These are race-based attacks on a woman’s right to choose, which are spearheaded by the Radiance Foundation in coordination with California-based Issues4Life Foundation. The Radiance Foundation and its supporters have accused Planned Parenthood of committing genocide against communities of color. The groups say Planned Parenthood is racist and that Planned Parenthood targets school clinics for abortion services, where parents don’t have to give consent or be notified. This is a ridiculous and untrue claim.

I began my professional career over 13 years ago in women’s reproductive health and justice as a health educator and later as the Promotoras (health promoters) Program Manager for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate. I worked alongside Planned Parenthood’s health professionals to provide comprehensive preventative healthcare to under and uninsured communities.

As Lupe Rodriguz, director of public affairs, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte tells BET.com, “Over 97% of the services we provide are preventative healthcare services including contraceptives, cancer screenings, annual exams and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and it really is for lower-income communities that don’t have access to health care.”

Surprisingly, I agree with Walter Hoye III, president of the Issues4Life Foundation when he recently stated, “The billboards have created a venue for dialogue.”

They have indeed. But this time, the dialogue is being facilitated by advocacy groups that represent our communities of color, especially communities where the billboards are located. These advocacy groups are focusing on the true needs for a healthy society – comprehensive health care access including reproductive health services, quality education, fair wage jobs and safe neighborhoods.

The billboard response coalition is led by Trust Black Women – CA (statewide collaborative of reproductive health, rights and justice organizations), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ) and Law Students for Reproductive Justice. The Women’s Foundation of California grant partners ACCESS, Black Women For Wellness, California Black Women’s Health Project, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, Generations Ahead, California Black Women’s Health Project and California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom are leading allies in the response efforts.

For ACRJ, like many of the organizations involved in the response efforts, the intention is to do more than just remove the billboards. They want to deepen the conversation in communities about reproductive health and justice. To that end, they are launching a campaign that includes community organizing, strategic communications and capacity building for organizations committed to safeguarding women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies and the make-up of their families.

I stand firmly with the leaders in the response efforts denouncing the offensive billboards. We need to work together to create a society that trusts, respects and supports ALL women to make their own family planning decisions.

You can help!
Please sign the petition at http://reproductivejustice.org/racist-billboards and be part of this exciting local movement to take a stand against the billboards.

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