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Which banners actually “undermine public health”?

On December 26, the Walk for Life West Coast, working through the city’s Department of Public Works, had 50 banners placed on lampposts on San Francisco’s Market Street. The banners were in preparation for the January 25 Walk for Life West Coast, the second-largest pro-life event in the country and one of the largest annual events to be held in San Francisco. The banners met all requirements and proclaimed the Walk’s contention: “Abortion Hurts Women.” Not everyone was happy. On December 31, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ellen Shaffer of the Silver Ribbon Committee, a pro-abortion group, had demanded that Mayor Ed Lee have the banners removed. Mayor Lee’s spokesman Francis Tang responded, “Mayor Lee is a staunch, longtime defender of a woman’s right to choose and disagrees strongly with the message of the banners, but the mayor’s disapproval obviously doesn’t and shouldn’t trump the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Would that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors could understand such a simple principle of civic responsibility. On January 14, in the latest seemingly willful effort to make themselves ridiculous, Supervisor David Campos, joined by six of his colleagues, jumped on Ms. Shaffer’s bandwagon, and introduced a resolution opposing the banners. The Chronicle reporter covering the resolution expressed appropriate skepticism: “While the resolution may have many San Franciscans nodding in agreement, it’s seems unlikely that city has any legal right to refuse to post something simply because politicians don’t like the message.”

The Supervisors’ resolution was reported nationwide.   Even the San Francisco Chronicle–no friend of the Walk for Life West Coast–condemned the resolution in a January 24 editorial. Here’s an excerpt from the Chronicle’s op-ed:

City can’t suppress unpopular message

From the Embarcadero to Civic Center Plaza, 50 banners proclaiming “Abortion hurts women” have waved for a month from city lamp posts in advance of the 10th annual Walk for Life rally Saturday.

The banners have infuriated pro-choice advocates, who hung their own banners from the same utility poles two years ago in observance of the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that enshrined a woman’s right to choose…

Supervisor Campos’ objections to the message likely reflect those of his constituents and many San Franciscans. Our position on abortion rights is well established: A woman’s right to choose is a matter of fundamental privacy that is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

However, this is not about whether we or anyone at City Hall likes the message on those antiabortion banners. If the city wants to keep contentious issues from those prime vantage points, it should be applied evenly. When it comes to the airing of views in public places, a government does not have the right to give an advantage to those it agrees with and to suppress those it does not.

Despite the Chronicle’s warning the full Board of Supervisors will vote on the resolution on January 28. The Supervisors call the banner’s message “false” and Ms. Shaffer called it “hate speech.” 

Had they joined the tens of thousands of peaceful people who were at the Civic Center and on Market Street on Saturday they could have learned otherwise. They could have listened to the post-abortive women at the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, held before the rally. They then could decide for themselves whether or not abortion hurts women, and whether what they were hearing is “hate speech.” They could listen to Gianna Jensen, who spoke at the 2008 Walk and bears the marks of a failed abortion to this day. They could listen to Vera Faith Lord, who spoke at the 2007 Walk. They could listen to the women in the “Been There” videos, who describe the pain of their abortions, pain they bear to this day. They could listen to world-famous actress Jennifer O’Neill, to former “card-carrying NARAL member” Karen Shablin, to Georgette Forney, to Karen Williams, to Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” from Roe v. Wade. All of these women grippingly testify that “Abortion Hurts Women.”

What makes the Supervisors contention that the banners "undermine public health" doubly ridiculous is the fact that every September banners advertising the notorious Folsom Street Fair will line Market Street. The HIV epidemic was and is the greatest threat to public health the city of San Francisco has ever faced. And, tragically, for the first time in six years, the city saw an increase in HIV cases in 2012.  All San Franciscans are sadly familiar with this. In fact, the co-founders of the Walk for Life West Coast, Dolores Meehan and Eva Muntean, first met while caring for AIDS patients at Mother Teresa's Gift of Love hospice in San Francisco’s Western Addition.  That behaviors which really do “undermine public health” take place at the Folsom Street Fair has been extensively and disgustingly documented.  But far from objecting to the Folsom Street Fair banners, in 2008 the Supervisors declared September 28, 2008 to be "Folsom Street Fair Day."  So one can take their professed concern for “public health” with a rather large grain of salt.

The Supervisors’ resolution will not affect the Walk for Life West Coast banners in any way. It’s a political charade, as the Chronicle intimated. It’s not news to us, any more than it is to most San Franciscans, that the Supervisors find time to waste the taxpayers’ money on an unreal issue.

 
About the Author
Gibbons J. Cooney 

Gibbons J. Cooney is the Parish Secretary at Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco and volunteers with the Walk for Life West Coast.
 
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