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Within 24 hours of being up, abortion-rights billboard vandalized in Duluth

Organizers behind the billboard say more of their messaging is needed in the community.

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The pro-choice billboard was vandalized sometime Monday night. Courtesy of the Minnesota Billboard Project

A abortion-rights billboard was vandalized within 24 hours of being up in Duluth.

The colorful billboard located near the intersection of Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue East displayed the message, “abortion is healthcare.” The vandal(s) crossed out “healthcare” and wrote “evil” earlier this week.

To Kelly Searle, of the group behind the billboards , the vandalism “was the work of just one bad actor and not really representative of the community. And so we feel it's important to put that same artwork back up.”

Searle founded the Minnesota Billboard Project with her partner, Kristin Brietzke. Since this summer, the organization has set up several billboards in the Twin Cities with the goal of spreading positive, abortion-rights messaging, Searle said. The designs are created by Minnesota artists and all feature reproductive messaging and images.

The project only recently expanded to Duluth, with its first billboard running from October to November. It depicted a female Paul Bunyan, with the message “no bans here,” Searle said.

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The “abortion is healthcare” billboard replaced the Paul Bunyan billboard on Monday, and was vandalized later that evening. The company providing billboard space took it down the next day.

A local reproductive freedom group H.O.T.D.I.S.H. ( Hand Over the Decision it’s Healthcare ) Militia helped the project set up the Duluth billboards. The militia is a partner of the WE Health Clinic in Duluth — the only abortion provider in northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, according to its website.

Throughout the several months of billboards being up, Searle said they never had a problem with vandalism until now. And a majority of responses to the billboards were positive, she said, so she called the incident an anomaly.

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This artwork, designed by Stace of Spades, was used on a pro-choice billboard that was vandalized sometime on Monday. Courtesy of the Minnesota Billboard Project

Searle said she sees a need for more abortion-rights messaging as the incident indicates there is a need for more conversations about the topic, which she believes can be started through the billboards.

They’re raising funds for another one with the same artwork, but it may not be located in the same spot. She said they have plans to establish more in the city.

Artist Stacey Combs, who goes by the name "stace of spades," created the billboard's image. Although she was initially upset by the vandalism, she wrote in an email that there is a bright side to the incident: the organization's mission has since gained traction in the media and on social media.

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The billboard was the site of another vandalism in 2012, when someone vandalized an anti-racism billboard with racist messaging. The organization behind the billboard, the Un-Fair Campaign, moved its billboard to a new location after the vandalism.

A spokesperson with the Duluth Police Department said officers are currently investigating the incident by reviewing footage from surveillance cameras, talking to businesses nearby and following up on leads.

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Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at djouse49@gmail.com.