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Antiabortion Group Takes Its Message to Skies Above Beaches

Protest: Airplane tows a giant banner with graphic photographs said to be of an aborted fetus, prompting complaints, confusion.

June 16, 2002|CARA MIA DiMASSA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An antiabortion group took to the skies above Southland beaches this weekend, using an airplane to tow a giant banner depicting what the Orange County-based organization says are two photos of a 10-week-old aborted fetus.

The 30-by-100-foot banner was almost impossible to ignore Saturday as it passed back and forth over Santa Monica's beaches for almost 30 minutes, a surprising sight compared to the typical fish taco, beer company and suntan oil advertisements that usually fly over the shores.

Gregg Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which financed the ad, said both photos were of the same aborted fetus. The banner, with a message reading "10-Week Abortion" and a 714 phone number, will continue to be flown over beaches as far south as San Diego today.

The group opted for the bold strategy after being turned down by the mainstream media, Cunningham said. "We are committed to unfalsifying abortion," he said, "and we think we can do that best visually."

The aerial campaign is part of a national marketing drive that has included displays on college campuses and billboards pulled by trucks during rush hour. The towing of banners began Memorial Day weekend in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area of Florida and moved to the Boston-Cape Cod area of Massachusetts the next weekend.

But many Santa Monica beachgoers said that they didn't understand the message.

David Nelson, 19, of Lancaster said he thought the banner was advertising for an abortion provider. "I think it's stupid," he said, adding that he considers himself antiabortion. "It's like, call this number and get an abortion."

"I noticed it, I looked at it, but I didn't understand what it meant," said Elaine Fleming, who was visiting from Minnesota. "I thought it was odd to be sitting at the beach and to see this big banner about abortion going by."

David Boman, 17, who was in town from Las Vegas for his sister's graduation from UCLA, said he couldn't make out the banner's pictures. "But I thought it was an abortion protest," he said. "I can sympathize with the cause, in some ways, but I don't agree with their tactics, which are inappropriate."

Others who saw the banner were shocked by their graphic nature.

"I thought it was pretty nasty-looking," said Melva Stuart of Monterey Park, who was visiting the beach with her daughter and grandchildren. "I'm sitting on the beach, trying to relax, and having to look at something like that. The kids are looking at the water, not the sky, thank goodness."

Cunningham said the group raised the $2,500 per day to rent the plane for banner-towing from private individuals and hopes it can gather enough money to regularly fly banners over Dodger and Angel games, local college campuses and "any time there is a large assemblage of people."

He said abortion clinics were paid to allow the photos of the fetuses to be taken, but declined to say how much was paid or where the photos were taken.

Stephanie Mueller, director of public policy for the National Abortion Federation, which supports abortion rights, said her organization received calls from people who had seen the aerial billboards in Massachusetts. "The public does not want to see this kind of protest," she said. "These people have the right to voice their opinion, but they need to do it in a way that's respectful of others."

Nancy Sasaki, president of the Los Angeles chapter of Planned Parenthood, had a similar objection to the campaign. She accused the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform of turning "what should be a private matter into a media circus" and said she doubted the authenticity of the photos used in the campaign.

Cunningham admitted that in other cities the calls of outrage outnumbered those of support by almost 20 to 1. "People were saying they were denied relaxation," he said. "But when Americans are killing children, they don't deserve a day at the beach."

For Marvin McLellan, the banner did not serve to diminish a day of reverie. The 25-year-old radio personality from Buffalo, N.Y., was on the last day of a late spring vacation in the California sun. The ad campaign, he said, was "a little confusing."

"But it's definitely gritty," he added.

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