January 22, the anniversary of the deadly Roe v. Wade decision, is traditionally marked by events hosted by both pro-life and pro-abortion groups. This year, a pro-abortion group (called variously Trust Women, the Silver Ribbon Campaign, and the Center for Policy Analysis) decided it would commemorate not just the Roe v. Wade date but the entire month of January with a display of banners along San Francisco’s iconic Market Street.
The organization obtained the necessary permits and erected the banners in late December. Sporting slogans such as “U.S. Out Of My Uterus” and “Abortion Is a Human Right,” the seventy banners quickly grabbed the attention of the public, the media, and the organizers of the West Coast Walk for Life, which would be proceeding right under those banners. The banners also grabbed the attention of Life Legal Defense Foundation, which noticed something that others had overlooked: the banners were illegal.
The San Francisco Public Works Code sets out the conditions under which permits may be issued for the placement of banners on designated city property. First and foremost, the banners must be either to represent a neighborhood or announce an event open to the public. Event banners are permitted to be up from 30 days before to 10 days after the event. The banners themselves are not to contain slogans or oversize logos showing corporate sponsorship. Finally, for banners on Market Street, the applicant must have already obtained a street closure permit for an event that would close all or part of Market Street.
The banners, erected by Trust Women/Silver Ribbon/Center for Policy Analysis violated the Public Works Code in several ways. First, the banners did not announce any event, city-wide or otherwise. They displayed pro-abortion slogans and the names, logos, and even web addresses of the sponsoring pro-abortion organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Catholics for Choice, NARAL, and BACORR, San Francisco’s own militant pro-abortion activist organization. And the website for the Silver Ribbon campaign itself said that the purpose of the banners was to “spark conversations and help build momentum” for the pro-abortion cause not to advertise any event taking place in San Francisco, much less any event that involved closing Market Street.
After comparing the requirements of the law with the facts on the ground, LLDF sent a letter to the Department of Public Works, pointing out the many ways in which the banners were not in compliance with the law, and demanding documentation showing how and why the permits had been issued. When the City finally complied with the demands (several days and a long holiday week-end later), the documents further confirmed LLDF’s objections: there was no city-wide event involving a closure of Market Street to undergird the banner permit. Rather, the banner permit had been issued on the basis of a permit for a Friday evening “sidewalk march” with an estimated crowd attendance of 200, far fewer than the 500 required under the code. And even this alleged event was advertised neither on the banners nor on the website of the event’s sponsor.
LLDF’s demand to the City in turn sparked some media interest, but the Department of Public Works publicly stuck to its guns and claimed that the banners were “in conjunction with” a city-wide event that no one had heard about. However, apparently feeling the heat, Trust Women/Silver Ribbon suddenly decided that it was going to have an event, but not the event it had told the city it was having. On Tuesday, January 17, its website announced that on Sunday, January 22 (i.e., five days later), it would be having “an event to commemorate and admire the pro-choice banners on Market Street.” As the San Francisco Chronicle dryly noted: “So the banners are promoting an event to admire the banners. And they’re not for the day or time listed on the event permits.”
Pity the pro-aborts. They had to re-schedule their event when they found it conflicted with the Occupy Wall Street West protests that were going to take place in San Francisco that same Friday. You can’t expect people to be two places at once, can you?
But their problems weren’t over yet. The City did not go along with their attempt to reschedule their “event” from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, and threatened to revoke their banner permit if they did not make their website conform with what they had told the City about their “event.” So a day later, January 18, three weeks after the banners went up, the Trust Women/Silver Ribbon website finally announced the “event” (taking place two days later) that the banners were supposedly “in conjunction with.” This event was a “virtual on-line march,” to be conducted by bringing portable internet-accessible devices to Justin Herman Plaza and simultaneously logging on to the “Online March for Reproductive Justice.”
And on the basis of that fig leaf, the banners stayed up for a few more days.
In other words, the Department of Public Work’s response to finding out that it had allowed itself to be duped into granting the banner permit for a non-existent event was not to revoke the permit and take down the banners, but to demand that the event take place, or at least that it be advertised as if it were going to take place.
But advertising an event doesn’t make it happen. When Friday evening came around, not a single virtually marching pro-abort showed up at Justin Herman Plaza. Even the BACORR rally the next day, which the Silver Ribbon campaign tried to piggyback on to get its numbers up, only drew 120 people, not the 500 it told the City it would have in order to block the Walk for Life’s bid for the Plaza.
The Department of Public Works continues to stand by its decision to allow the banners. Therefore, the next time another group–this time perhaps a pro-life one, perhaps one that actually has an event scheduled for Market Street–applies for a permit to put up banners “in conjunction with” its event, there should be no problem with getting approval.
Meanwhile, the lesson is clear: don’t trust pro-abort women.
[This article was printed in Lifeline Vol. XXI, No. 1 (Spring 2012) Read in PDF.]