The ad was sponsored by a Texas-based anti-abortion group, which said there is a particularly high abortion rate among black women and that it wanted to show them there are other options. The billboard sparked outrage and allegations of racism in liberal New York City. It was removed by the advertising company less than a week after it was erected.
That, however, was a small victory for abortion-rights groups, which say they are facing an increasingly hostile political and fighting a sudden surge of legislation across the country aimed at restricting women's access to abortion.
Hundreds of such bills are introduced in state legislatures every year, and it's unclear how many will actually be enacted into law. But abortion-rights advocates say this year is different.
"I think they feel emboldened by the results of the midterm election," she told AOL News in a phone interview.
Some of the most controversial legislation focuses on abortion providers. Under a bill proposed inn Nebraska, the use of deadly force to protect a fetus would be considered "justifiable homicide." Critics say they fear the measure would put a bull's-eye on the heads of abortion providers in the state.
But the sponsor of the Nebraska bill, state Sen. Mark Christensen, said he wrote LB 232 to provide legal protection to mothers trying to defend their unborn children from abusive husbands and partners, and had no intention of legalizing violence against abortion providers.
The Republican said he planned to propose an amendment to the bill to make it clear that only a mother or father can use deadly force to protect the fetus, not a "third party," such as an anti-abortion extremist.
"We'll adapt the language to make it clear that my intent is clear," he told AOL News by phone Friday.
Christensen said he is against abortion but denied that the bill was aimed at chipping away at abortion rights.
"This has nothing to do with eliminating abortions, it's strictly about the mother," he said. "I do not believe in abortion personally, but it is the law of the land right now, and I'm not here to attack that until it is reversed. I am strictly out to defend."
He said he wasn't sure if the bill would make it to a vote before next year.
A similar bill was introduced in South Dakota earlier this month, but was killed before it made it to the House floor amid loudly voiced concerns from abortion-rights and anti-abortion groups alike that the legislation could encourage violence and vigilantism. But less than a week later, a bill requiring pregnant women to seek consultations with anti-abortion crisis centers made it to a vote in the state House and passed.
The bill, HB 1217, would require that a woman receive counseling from a "pregnancy help center" that does not perform abortions and considers its mission to "help a pregnant mother maintain her relationship with her unborn child and care for her unborn child." She would also have to wait 72 hours after the consultation before seeking an abortion. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Roger Hunt, a Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After years of debates dominated more by the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, abortion has suddenly resurfaced as a key topic.
"2011 has just been one of the hottest years on both sides of the abortion issue that we've seen, ever," Eric Scheidler, an activist with the Pro-Life Action League, said in a phone interview.
"In 2010 we saw a change in so many state legislatures and that's now having an impact across the country," he said. "There's a spirit of optimism throughout the movement we haven't seen for years."
Groups on both sides of the debate point to the 2010 midterm elections as a leading cause of the uptick in legislation restricting abortion.
"What we're seeing in the states right now is a direct consequence of the 2010 election," said Ted Miller of NARAL, one of the country's largest pro-abortion-rights organizations.
But Miller said the new conservative lawmakers have overstepped their bounds.
"The 2010 elections were dominated by the economy," he said in a phone interview. "We can say definitively that there is no state where voters sent a mandate to legislators to remove a woman's right to choose. Voters gave lawmakers a clear directive and instead, in state after state, we see new and extreme attacks on a woman's right to choose."
Some anti-abortion activists suggested that visible scandals surrounding abortion, such as the arrest of Kermit Gosnell, have begun to change the public's opinion on abortion. Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider, was charged in January with delivering seven live infants and then killing them with scissors. He is also charged with murder in the death of a woman who suffered an overdose of painkillers while awaiting an abortion.
Whatever the reason, it's clear that a fresh push to end abortion seems to be under way in legislatures across the country, but especially in the Plains states and in the South. One of the most controversial pieces of legislation has been proposed in Georgia. The bill would criminalize abortions as "prenatal homicide," an act that could be punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.
The bill, HB 1, would also require women who have suffered a miscarriage to report it to local officials within 72 hours so they could "investigate the cause of fetal death" to make sure there was "no human involvement whatsoever in the causation of such event."
The bill's author, state Rep. Bobby Franklin, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In New York, the billboard alone served as cause for concern among abortion-rights groups. To some, the sign seemed to announce an invasion from the Bible Belt in the ultra-liberal streets of Manhattan.
Stephen Broden, one of the founders of Life Always, the Texas group responsible for the New York City billboard, said his group chose to place the ad in New York because of the city's high abortion rate, especially among black women. But he said he believed the message would draw more attention in the trendy SoHo section than it would have in some of the city's predominantly black neighborhoods.
"There was a need for us to get attention, to put it in in a place where we could generate the strongest reaction," Broden said in a phone interview. "Putting it in Harlem it would have been ignored by the major media."
Broden maintains it resonated with African-American women who have had abortions and have been traumatized by them.
"Women are walking around with a lot of guilt and pain and the message triggers and reminds women of the trauma of that experience," he said.
He said the anti-abortion message is gaining traction because Americans are beginning to see the importance of protecting life in the womb.
"Life begins at conception," Broden said. "All of the constitutional rights that are given to you and I are applied inside the womb as well."