Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Anti-abortion movement
targets Honolulu skies

Question: I have no thoughts about the whole abortion issue but I am bothered by a large truck that drives around Oahu streets with very graphic images on its side depicting aborted fetuses. I work in the downtown area and not a day goes by when I and many of my fellow employees have to witness these graphic displays while trying to enjoy lunch at Tamarind Park. What and who can I voice my opinion to regarding this. I believe in freedom of speech but isn't there a better way to get their message across?

Answer: If you thought the trucks were bad, think about those graphic images flying above Honolulu.

The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, based in Los Angeles, wants to fly banners 50-feet high and 100-feet long here as it has done in some mainland cities. But to do this, it says it apparently needs to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to force the City and County of Honolulu to repeal what it maintains is an unconstitutional ordinance banning aerial banners.

The nonprofit, anti-abortion group, which seeks to shock people with the in-your-face, billboard-sized photos of aborted fetuses, is planning to file the lawsuit "very likely within the next few weeks," Executive Director Gregg Cunningham said in a telephone interview from California on Tuesday.

He's angered that none of the nine people who were on the Honolulu City Council last December responded to his letter threatening a lawsuit "if your municipality does not immediately repeal its ban against aerial advertising."

City Council Chairman Gary Okino told Kokua Line on Thursday that he will ask the city's Corporation Counsel to look into the matter and advise members on what action to take, if any.

Cunningham is armed with a change in a Federal Aviation Administration directive reaffirming its jurisdiction over airspace, as well as his center's victory in spurring the city of Huntington Beach, Calif., to repeal an ordinance against aerial advertising that was modeled on the Honolulu law. The ordinance was repealed in November before it was ever enforced, leading to a settlement of a lawsuit filed against Huntington Beach on behalf of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Huntington Beach enacted its short-lived law after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in January 2002, upheld U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor's 1998 denial of a challenge to the Honolulu ordinance.

SkySign International argued that federal laws preempted local laws, and that the FAA had granted it certificates to operate over Oahu. The FAA also maintained that local ordinances could not preempt FAA regulations.

But, "Advertising is an area traditionally subject to regulation under the states' police power," the appeals court said, "and we therefore presume that federal law does not displace Honolulu's regulatory authority over advertising absent a clear statement of the federal intent to do so."

The court pointed out that the certificate the FAA granted to SkySign to fly aerial banners contained a provision referring to local ordinances. The court ruled there was an implied FAA transfer of jurisdiction over airspace because it said operators must "understand and obey local and state ordinances that may prohibit or restrict banner tow operations."

However, last October, the FAA sent out a notice that it was deleting that wording in its certificate for banner towing operations.

"We wanted to make it perfectly clear that the FAA still retained sole authority over airspace," Mike Fergus, an FAA spokesman based in Seattle, told Kokua Line last week. The FAA didn't want to leave any doubt "as to what our intent is in supporting and maintaining our sovereignty, jurisdiction-wise, over airspace."

In its notice of the change, the FAA said the certificate had contained statements "that have been misinterpreted to recognize the ability of state or local governments to use their police powers to regulate banner towing and aerial advertising flight operations authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration ... State and local regulation of such flight operations could easily impede federal policy and purpose ... State or local regulations would undermine nationwide uniformity and have a negative effect on interstate commerce."

Asked why the center doesn't fly the banners based on the FAA directive, Cunningham said its pilots would face potential arrest and prosecution as long as the Honolulu ordinance was in effect.

The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform used trucks as its means of spreading its anti-abortion message in cities across the United States, then expanded to the skies in selected cities last year.

Cunningham declined to say how many trucks were operating in Honolulu or elsewhere "for security reasons. We get death threats, threats of physical violence against our property."

But negative reaction is what the center wants.

"If you think people are upset about these trucks, we are about to launch aerial billboards over the islands that will be 50-feet tall and 100-feet long," Cunningham said when we asked how you could lodge a complaint (call 714-524-2424, which is the number plastered on the trucks and banners).

The center is "specifically targeting Honolulu (for the banners) because of the tremendous influence we're capable of having with Asian visitors. (Hawaii) is really a crossroads for the world and it's an opportunity to reach them without having to travel all over the world," Cunningham said.

The center's tactics are based on the belief that "social reform never advances in this country without the use of shocking photographs -- disturbing imagery -- that's designed to prick the collective conscience of the culture," he said.

Asked what steps the center has taken beyond its shock tactics to repeal legalized abortion, Cunningham said the pro-life movement is comprised of organizations that lobby, or try to get pro-life candidates elected to office, or provide crisis pregnancy support for women.

"For 30 years, the pro-life movement has been doing Step 2, Step 3, Step 4, Step 5. Nobody has been doing Step 1. Step 1 is forcing the culture to acknowledge that it's a baby (being aborted)," he said.

His center is doing the "ugly, difficult, confrontational work of holding up the visual evidence in this very visual culture that all the other pro-life groups have been unwilling to do."

Barry Raff, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Hawaii, thinks the center "is doing more to irritate people" than anything else, while offering no "real alternative" or "real answers."

While he won't argue with its First Amendment right to show the graphic images, "I just think they picked the wrong state to do this in. Hawaii is different. More people are really turned off by this."

Raff said people have called Planned Parenthood asking what it intended to do about the center's campaign. Planned Parenthood can't stop the center from doing what it's doing, he said, but he feels it could show more discretion in how and where it chooses to deliver its message, such as staying away from elementary schools.


Useful phone numbers

Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered.
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