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Texas abortion-rights groups plan to protest Dillard’s/Heroic Media event


Despite petitions from women’s rights groups and emails from customers, department store chain Dillard’s is proceeding with sponsoring a second fundraiser with the anti-abortion media group Heroic Media this upcoming Saturday, April 9, in Houston.

However, people walking in and out of the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Houston — the location for the scheduled Sowing Seeds for Life! event — might run into a few dozen grassroots protesters planning to bring attention to the messages behind the billboards Heroic Media and its affiliate Life Always have been erecting throughout the country.

“We want to make people know the truth about abortion rates, that they’re not part of some Nazi program,” said Bill Lambert, founder of the Facebook group Pro-Choice Houston, which organized the protest. “It is a stupid racist thing to come up,” he said, referring to one of the slogans Heroic Media has spread over highways in African-American neighborhoods in various cities: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”

“The outrage is everywhere,” said Lambert, who washes dishes by day and champions women’s rights on his off hours. “Our [protest] is a thoughtful approach to the issue, to talk about the root causes of [high abortion rates among African-Americans] instead of vilifying black women and calling their wombs unsafe.”

Pro-Choice Houston, which Lambert said comprises approximately 250 members, will be joined Saturday by members from the University of Houston’s Student Feminist Organization (SFO) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Thus far, 36 Facebook users have confirmed they are attending the protest, while 30 have said they might attend. Lambert said their plan is to stand outside the Hyatt, starting at 10:30 a.m., for the two hours Heroic Media sponsors and supporters will be modeling Dillard’s springwear. Protesters will hand out leaflets Lambert’s team put together, explaining their position on Heroic Media and its ad campaign.

An excerpt from the Pro-Choice Houston leaflet, taken from a Guttmacher Institute report, reads:

In the US, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women. Antiabortion activists, including some African-American pastors, have been waging a campaign around this fact, falsely asserting that the disparity is the result of aggressive marketing by abortion providers to minority communities. They ignore the fundamental reason women have abortions and the underlying problem of racial and ethnic disparities across an array of health indicators. The truth is that behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. This applies to all women – black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American alike. Not surprisingly, the variation in abortion rates across racial and ethnic groups relates directly to the variation in the unintended pregnancy rates across those same groups… These higher unintended pregnancy rates reflect the particular difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively over long periods of time. These patterns of abortion rates mirror the levels of unintended pregnancy seen across these same groups, and the disparities in unintended pregnancy rates result mainly from similar disparities in access to and effective use of contraceptives.

Neither representatives from the Dillard’s Memorial City store that is lending clothes for the event, nor representatives from Dillard’s headquarters would respond to The American Independent’s requests for comment on the scheduled protest or previous reactions to the event.

“[Heroic Media's] media campaign targeting African American women on billboards was especially offensive,” said Houstonian Hope Sanford in an email to TAI explaining her involvement in the protest. “The group attacks Planned Parenthood, who provide contraception and education to a large segment of Texas women (we have the highest rate of uninsured women in the US) and one of the videos on their site actually has a young woman, supposedly being coerced into abortion asking plaintively, ‘Don’t** I **have a choice?’ Well actually, not if Heroic Media gets their way! Rather than targeting vulnerable young women with unintended pregnancies using cleverly framed guilt and shame tactics, we should advocate for better access to contraception and education.”

As TAI previously reported, last fall, a Dillard’s store in Austin loaned clothes to a Heroic Media fundraiser attended by 200 people that raised approximately $45,000 to fund an Austin-focused campaign, according to Heroic Media spokesperson Kimberly Speirs. This fundraiser — with an expected attendance of 400-500 people — will fund a Houston campaign. Speirs has not confirmed the nature of that campaign, but last month she told TAI that the featured speaker at this event will be an African-American woman who chose not to have an abortion.

The mission of Heroic Media is just that, to help women choose not to have abortions. The organization self-identifies as a ”faith-based non-profit that reduces abortion by creating a Culture of Life through television, billboard and internet advertising which connects women in crisis with life-affirming pregnancy centers.”

What many people have taken issue with is the racially-tinged media tactics Heroic Media has used in some of its advertising, as well as the crisis pregnancy centers the advertisements and billboards point viewers to. Groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation have reported (PDF) that some crisis pregnancy centers offer misleading information about what services they offer in addition to misleading or distorted information about abortion. ([“>Read a related story](<a href=) on Texas crisis pregnancy centers, from The Texas Independent.)

“Heroic Media can do whatever they choose,” Sanford said. “However, Dillard’s should be called out for sponsoring a fundraiser for them. People who shop there should know what they are inadvertently supporting.”

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