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Billboard makes controversial claim on Black American abortions

A member of Cincinnati Right to Life came up with the billboard idea
Cincinnati Right to Life billboard
Posted at 6:43 PM, Mar 07, 2023

Editor's note: WCPO has updated this story to include Ohio's government data, cited by Cincinnati Right to Live, on the number of abortions of Black fetuses in 2021.

A Cincinnati group says its controversial billboards placed throughout the Tri-State are meant to spark conversation, but others disagree with the claims.

The billboards say the No. 1 cause of death in the Black community is abortion. The message was crafted by Cincinnati Right to Life Director of Development Mo Riggins.

"This is much bigger than defending life, but the billboards came about because I wanted to work with these donors on how do we get the message across that abortion is genocide on Black America, and let's be honest some people will disagree," Riggins said.

Cincinnati Right to Life billboard
Cincinnati Right to Life billboard

Someone who disagrees is the president and CEO of the Center for Closing the Health Gap, Renee Mahaffey Harris.

"So, first of all, that’s inaccurate," she said. "That is not the No. 1 cause of death in the Black community, cardiovascular disease is."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports heart disease is the leading cause of death for Black Ohioans and Americans. In an emailed statement, Ken Gordon with the Ohio Department of Health said: "In 2021, the latest year for which finalized data is available, the leading causes of death among Black people in Ohio were heart disease (3,691), cancer (2,821), unspecified causes such as “old age” (2,458), COVID-19 (2,160), and accidents (1,603)."

Despite these reports, Cincinnati Right to Life executive director Laura Strietmann stands by their message. She said 20 billboards were put up across the Tri-State on Feb. 1 for Black History Month. They were supposed to be up for one month, but she said the billboard company hasn’t taken them down yet.

Cincinnati Right To Life cites Ohio government numbers for the billboards' claims, which show there were 9,446 abortions of Black fetuses in 2021.

The Ohio Department of Health reports there were 21,813 induced abortions in 2021. White women make up 40.3% of that number, Black women make 43.3% and Asian/ Pacific Islanders make 2.8%. You can read the entire Induced Abortion report here.

WCPO checked data from the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health and determined Cincinnati Right to Life's claim is accurate. However, the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health do not count abortions as deaths.

Mahaffey Harris called the billboard misinformation and said claims like these aren't new, but they are unfortunate.

"I think the fact that there are issues that are detrimental to individuals' lives on a daily basis, specifically within the Black community, the reality of the data is showing that disparities and disproportionate mortality and morbidity and almost every major disease for Black and Brown populations is the fact, so that should be the crisis," she said.

Riggins said he’s gotten both positive and negative reactions.

"Some of the people say you’re empowering us to now take a stand as well and then we have people who call and they're angry," Riggins said.

He said his goal was to start a conversation.

"We’re not here to offend anyone, but we’re here to be bold," he said. "We don’t want you to take our word for it. We want you to do your research. We want to provide you information that we know will get you going."

“I think the response in most people will be like, 'Hmm that doesn’t make sense.' I hope that’s how they respond," Mahaffeey Harris said. "I would assume that they put it up to provoke a conversation, but it’s unfortunate because it’s inaccurate information."

Cincinnati Right To Life cites Ohio government numbers for the billboards' claims, which show there were 9,446 abortions of Black fetuses in 2021.