Next Sunday, when millions of people tune in to watch Super Bowl XLIV, they'll see a football star off the field, too. Tim Tebow, the University of Florida's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, is set to appear with his mother in a 30-second advertisement to be aired during the game. The spot, which has not been released, is said to feature Tebow, by all reports a humble young man who takes his faith seriously, and his mother telling the story of her decision 23 years ago to ignore medical advice and continue a risky pregnancy. Pam Tebow says that she had contracted amoebic dysentery, and her doctors feared that the medicine used to treat her illness might cause fetal deformity. The healthy and very successful Tim proved them wrong.
An excellent summary.
For abortion rights supporters, picking on Tim Tebow and his mom is not the way to go.
Indeed. It's hard to argue that you're for "choice" when you go into an apoplexy of rage every time a woman makes a choice that's not abortion.
Instead of trying to block or criticize the Focus on the Family ad, the pro-choice movement needs its own Super Bowl strategy.
And what, pray tell, would that strategy be?
People want to be inspired, and abortion is as tough and courageous a decision as is the decision to continue a pregnancy.
Yes, people do indeed want to be inspired. But what's inspirational about abortion? It's a capitulation to fear and despair, to the point of killing one's own offspring. Which, yeah, can be a tough thing for a frightened woman to force herself to do. Maybe she is afraid she won't be able to care for a child. Maybe she has other children and doesn't know how she can still care for them if she has another child. Maybe she's afraid her man will leave her. It's not that she wants this particular child to die; it's that she doesn't see a way out of the trap.
As Frederica Matthewes-Green wrote, "No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg."
Yeah, you can see such an act as courageous, I suppose. Aron Ralston, for example, certainly inspired us with his courage when he amputated his own arm after getting trapped by a boulder in the wilderness. But what if there had been people hiking nearby that Aron could have called out to, who could have rescued him and saved his arm? What if he'd cut his own arm off not because there was no other option, but because he was embarrassed to have gotten stuck? Because he didn't want his mom to know he'd been hiking alone? Because he was impatient and didn't want to wait for rescuers to arrive?
Cutting his own arm off in those circumstances seems more pathological than courageous. More on this later. Back to Kissling and Michelman:
All Tim Tebow wants to do next Sunday, we are told, is let the world know that he's glad his mother had him and that he hopes other women make the same choice. Pam Tebow was indeed courageous and had the legal right to choose, a point the pro-choice movement can readily make in response to the ad.
The only people who don't want women to have a right to make the choice Pam Tebow made are working within the "prochoice" movement. It's only abortion supporters, not abortion opponents, who have ever moved toward making the birth choice illegal for some women. We can see this in action in China. And in the wake of Sarah Palin's nomination, we heard right in America from people who don't think that women carrying "imperfect" babies should have the right to choose birth. So holding Pam Tebow up as an example of a choice the prochoice movement made available is disingenuous, to say the least. But it's a claim abortion supporters seem compelled to make, as in this editorial saying that the abortion-rights movement is about "protecting the right of women like Pam Tebow to make their private reproductive choices." Um, earth to prochoicers -- you didn't invent childbirth. Women have given birth for millennia, and don't need legal abortion to be able to do so.
Those opposed to legal abortions have learned a lot about reaching out to the many Americans who can't make up their minds about the issue. Many of these people don't want abortion to be illegal but believe that too many such procedures take place in this country. Conservative groups, such as Focus on the Family, have gotten that message. They know to save the fire and brimstone for their hardcore base; for Super Bowl Sunday, you appeal to people's hearts with a smiling baby -- or Tim Tebow and his mom. Presenting Americans with a challenge of personal sacrifice, especially if the person who has to sacrifice is a woman, is a convincing sell.
But what sacrifice did Pam Tebow make? She knew what she wanted -- a live baby -- and she pursued her goal.
Women's and choice groups responding to the Tebow ad should take a page from the Focus on the Family playbook. Erin Matson, the National Organization for Women's new vice president, called the Tebow spot "hate masquerading as love." That kind of comment may play well in the choice choir, but to others, it makes no sense, at best; at worst, it's seen as the kind of stridency that reinforces the view that pro-choice simply means pro-abortion.
Duh. As if there aren't an abundance of examples of "prochoice" meaning "proabortion". I can provide examples for those of you who've lived in a cave and thus never saw any for yourself.
We have seen a dramatic shift in attitudes toward "pro-life" and "pro-choice." In 1995 Gallup asked respondents for the first time whether they considered themselves "to be pro-choice or pro-life." Only 33 percent took on the pro-life label. In 2009, 51 percent considered themselves pro-life, and pro-choice had dropped from a high of 56 percent to 44 percent.
Neither movement can take full credit or blame for the change. Science played a big role, making the fetus more visible. Today, the first picture in most baby books is the 12-week 3D ultrasound, and Grandma and Grandpa have that photo posted on the fridge.
A shocking admission -- that science tends to lead people to reject abortion. But another "Paging Captain Obvious" moment. It's hard to argue that abortion isn't killing a baby when people are used to looking at what looks very much like a baby at that same age.
We read about successful fetal surgery; we don't read about women dying in pools of blood on their bathroom floors after botched abortions, as we did when the procedure was illegal.
As if dying in a pool of blood on your bathroom floor is somehow okay if the abortion was legal. The procohice movement has lost interest in gruesome abortion deaths now that they're not good for political fodder.
Congress has also weighed in. The "partial birth" abortion ban was introduced in 1995, shifting attention from the choice movement's effective "who decides" message -- which became the key question after the Supreme Court's 1989 Webster v. Reproductive Health Services decision -- to what the Catholic bishops had always wanted America to ask: "What is being decided?"
Isn't what's being decided relevant? You could hide behind "Who decides?" on any issue if you didn't want people to look at what you're choosing. Do we want to let pedophile priests make the difficult decision about molesting children in privacy, based on their own conscience and their own beliefs and their own wishes, behind a veil of privacy and "Who decides?" Or are there some decisions -- such as molesting a child, or killing him -- that just ought not to be made?
Such influences notwithstanding, there is no doubt that some segments of the antiabortion movement were more nimble and consistent in reaching out to the uncommitted than the choice advocates were. In the spring of 1992, the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation began a multimillion-dollar ad campaign with a "do the right thing" message -- similar to that in the Tebow spot. For five years, its "Life, What a Beautiful Choice" ads saturated media markets where public opinion on abortion was deeply divided.
And, like the Tebow ad, these ads sent people who were ostensibly "prochoice" into fits of rage.
NARAL Pro-Choice America followed with its "Choice for America" campaign, using symbols of freedom such as the U.S. flag to frame choice as a quintessential American value. "What's life without choice?" the ads asked. Tracking polls in the states where the spots aired showed an increase in identification with abortion rights, but donor support lagged, and the ads ended up on the shelf.
Perhaps because, like I said before, not all choices are equal.
On the other side, though, the innovation continued. Groups such as Feminists for Life started out relatively small but invested heavily in reaching out to college students, talking not about making abortion illegal but about helping college women keep their babies. Their pro-life message wasn't exclusively anti-abortion; it was anti-capital-punishment, antiwar, for saving the whales, for not eating meat and for supporting mothers. It wasn't the mainstream of the antiabortion movement, but it had its appeal.
But, perhaps, not any appeal for the "prochoice"? If you're for "choice", what's there not to like in a campaign that helps college women keep their babies? Isn't keeping the baby a valid choice?
Today, all sorts of well-educated and progressive people are comfortable calling themselves pro-life.
Though really, it's still seen as pretty gauche. All the Beautiful People are Prochoice.
In the public eye, the term seems to encompass a broader and more moderate vision, not focused solely on what it opposes.
Imagine the idea that it's somehow new for "Live and let live" to be "moderate". It seems that those in favor of such an extreme act as taking another person's life for one's own personal benefit are inherently extreme. Why aren't they seen as such?
So here's our Super Bowl strategy for the choice movement. We'd go with a 30-second spot, too. The camera focuses on one woman after another, posed in the situations of daily life: rushing out the door in the morning for work, flipping through a magazine, washing dishes, teaching a class of sixth-graders, wheeling a baby stroller. Each woman looks calmly into the camera and describes her different and successful choice: having a baby and giving it up for adoption, having an abortion, having a baby and raising it lovingly. Each one being clear that making choices isn't easy, but that life without tough choices doesn't exist.
Though giving birth --whether to raise the child or to make an adoption plan -- is a choice you don't need "choice" to choose. Odd that the abortion advocacy movement somehow wants credit for making birth available!
Now, let's get back to the "abortion as a tough choice", and the very apt analogy of taking off a limb.
Imagine the trapped hiker again. And imagine that other hikers know he's there, but they won't try to move the boulder. They won't call for rescue. They won't give him food or water or pain relief. They'll just concede that yeah, hacking the arm off with a pocket knife is a tough choice. They'll pat him on the shoulder and tell him how brave he is to do it. But they'll do nothing to address the desperation that leads him to the choice.
You'd not see them as very helpful, would you?
But isn't that what happens in abortion clinics and within the prochoice movement?
Women with health problems, like Ashli McCall, who don't want to abort their babies, are not given the health care they need and want. They're just scraped out and sent home. In the name of "choice".
Women who face prenatal diagnoses are often browbeaten to abort when they don't want to. It's the rare prochoice politician or activist -- like Ted Kennedy -- who stands up for these women. They're far too valuable as human shields, and to divert attention away from the real reasons late abortions are usually done, for the abortion lobby to let them slip away to the birthing room.
And then there are the ordinary women without health problems, with healthy babies, climbing tearfully onto the abortion table. They're not, by and large, choosing freely to do this. They're doing it because they feel trapped, because they don't believe there is any other way to deal with their challenges.
Maybe Kissling and Michelman can imagine a victorious, inspiring abortion. The reality is more sad and depressing. And it's hard to make an upbeat ad out of that.
HT: Jill Stanek