March 30, 2011 -- The organization behind controversial anti-abortion advertisements targeting African-Americans has unveiled its newest campaign, this time featuring an image of President Obama on billboards throughout his hometown of Chicago.
Texas-based Life Always revealed the first of 30 planned billboards Tuesday, plastering three of the posters on a building in Chicago's South Side. "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted," reads the text alongside the president's image.
Life Always board member Rev. Derek McCoy said, "These are babies who could grow to be the future presidents of the United States, or the next Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington or Maya Angelou."
Using President Obama's likeness in his hometown is an "intentional approach and strategy that will draw attention … fortunately, the ads are doing just that," said McCoy, who is associate pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.
Calling abortion a "major health risk" and "the leading cause of death" in the black community, McCoy said "softer ads wouldn't draw attention and raise awareness like we wanted."
ThatsAbortion.com is a project in which Life Always uses "advertising, research and confrontational truth to gain awareness, inform and educate individuals to choose life, always," according to the organization's website.
The White House has not responded to a request for comment.
Life Always most recently prompted ire in New York City last month with a billboard featuring a young African-American girl with text reading, "the most dangerous place for African-Americans is in the womb."
Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said then the New York billboard "sends a message of racial profiling and discourages a woman's right to choose."
But based on pure advertising merits, Russ Winer, chairman of the Marketing Department at New York University's Stern School of Business, said the New York billboard was "much more powerful because it was not a metaphor and used a direct visual image."
The girl's stock photograph was used without her mother's permission and the billboard was removed after blistering criticism.
Anti-Abortion Billboards Cause Controversy
Abortion rights groups have also denounced Life Always' Chicago anti-abortion billboard campaign.
"The groups behind these heinous attacks upon black women care nothing about black children or the black community," Toni Bond Leonard, president and CEO of Chicago-based Black Women for Reproductive Justice, said.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois President Carole Brite called the ads a "harmful" and "reprehensible tactic."
The billboards are an "offensive and condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African-American women," she said in a statement.
But Rev. McCoy said the group's stance on future leaders' being aborted "at an alarming rate" is "absolutely true."
Obama "could have easily been snuffed out" if his single mother didn't have the resources to care for him, McCoy said.
Life Always says its billboards promote "confrontational truths" that empower people to choose life, but NYU's Winer said there are varying levels of effectiveness to such appeals.
Advertisements typically succeed if the message is first noticed, then processed and, finally, changes one's attitudes, he said.
Winer said he doesn't believe the billboard message is a persuasive appeal that will cause women to change their opinions about abortion. The billboards are obviously meant for a targeted audience to draw controversy, he said, which is what the group clearly hoped to gain.
He called the billboard campaign an exercise in "raw attention creation."
Cherisse Scott, the Chicago heath educator with Black Women for Reproductive Justice, said, "I'm outraged, appalled, and the wind is knocked out of me."
"Finally, the Black community has a leader and for a black child to see him being linked to a campaign that basically says President Obama is an endangered species is a problem for me," said Scott, who attended Life Always' billboard unveiling Tuesday.
Scott said "no picture would have been as impactful" for Chicago residents as Obama's.
Life Always' McCoy echoed the sentiment, saying the group used the president's image because he's a "major leader in the African-American community, America and the world."
"Using Obama in Chicago is drawing attention, and that's what it's designed to do," he said.
Group Uses President Obama Picture on Anti-Abortion Billboards
Professor Winer agreed that the controversy is clearly a driving factor behind the Life Always billboards, but said that using the president to push a position is a flawed approach that always limits any discussion.
"It's not wise to use a presidential image because half the population doesn't support him," he said. "It's rare to see an advertising campaign that "links a product to a president.
"If you have to stop to think about what's going on, the message is diluted."
Winer said he thinks people will be focused less on abortion then on asking, "Why Obama?"
"In my opinion, it doesn't accomplish their goal as directly or as effectively as the other billboard," Winer said, referring to the last month's ad in New York.