City offcials say the truck-billboards are protected free speech
By Jazmine Ulloa
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Two delivery trucks displaying 22-by-7 feet images of aborted fetuses will be driving through Austin's downtown streets today, despite complaints from some residents that the vehicles violate city code and that the images are too graphic.
The vehicles are part of an effort to raise anti-abortion awareness by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a nonprofit group based in Los Angeles.
Initiated in 2001, the "Reproductive Choice Campaign" exhibits the images on the sides of delivery trucks that travel throughout the country to "change the way people perceive abortion," according to the center's Web site.
The moving billboards hit Texas for the first time a month ago in Houston and San Antonio. They began making their way around Austin on Monday near the University of Texas.
Residents have been calling the Police Department and the City of Austin complaining that the images are too graphic.
However, the campaign falls under the protection of the First Amendment and is legal, said Veneza Aguinaga, spokeswoman for the Police Department.
Some of those opposing the signs have said the trucks are violating city code, which prohibits the use of moving billboards. Council members passed an ordinance forbidding such billboards in June to prevent traffic and air pollution problems.
When Council Member Mike Martinez first saw the campaign's trucks, he said he called the Police Department to enforce the city code. But law enforcement officials told him the ordinance only prohibited for-profit advertising, not advocacy, he said.
"That's what they are — billboards. I absolutely wanted to stop them," said Martinez, who spearheaded the move against mobile billboards. "I disagree with their message and their method."
Vehicles also aren't classified as mobile billboards if they advertise messages directly related to the vehicle owner's business, Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd said. In this case, the center owns all of its trucks and is displaying its own message, he said.
"They're in your face and in my opinion tasteless," said Steven Shaw, who works downtown. "It's not what I wanted to see when I was eating my lunch yesterday, but it's fair game (to let them keep driving)."