DULUTH – Less than 24 hours after it went up, a billboard supporting abortion rights in the Central Hillside was spray-painted by vandals who left behind an anti-abortion message.
Early Tuesday morning, Duluth police received a report about the colorful sign at the corner of N. 6th Avenue East and E. 4th Street that read “Abortion is Healthcare.” The defacer crossed out “Healthcare” and, in white block letters, painted the word “EVIL.”
Duluth police are investigating the incident and will ask nearby businesses for any surveillance footage they might have captured.
The sign was designed by the Minnesota Billboard Project, a progressive campaign launched over the summer partly in response to the number of anti-abortion billboards that had popped up over the state. The project has helped design and raise money for seven billboards advocating for abortion rights across Minnesota so far — five in the metro area and two in Duluth.
Duluth is home to WE Health Clinic, Minnesota’s only abortion provider outside the Twin Cities. Laurie Casey, WE Health’s executive director, said though she regularly sees protesters outside the clinic, criminal activity like vandalism is rare.
“They’re trying to intimidate and harass and shame people,” said Casey, who is also a member of H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia, a local abortion rights group that helped work to bring the billboard to town. “It was really sad when we woke up this morning and saw it was defaced after not even being up a full day.”
Kristin Brietzke, co-founder of the Minnesota Billboard Project, said the group hasn’t had graffiti problems with any of its other signs. By Tuesday afternoon, the defaced design had been taken down, leaving a blank gray sign on the Duluth street corner.
Brietzke said she has “no doubt” the Minnesota Billboard Project will work with local groups to clean the defaced design or install a new billboard in town.
“Overall, people have been really supportive of our project,” she added. “This was just a bad apple.”