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Focus on the Family Super Bowl ad: both abortion AND motherhood matter

CBS has traditionally maintained a ban on advocacy ads, but when the network announced their intent to relax this restriction, Focus on the Family took the opportunity to create an anti-abortion ad. Super Bowl commercials are assured to receive a high rate of viewership, not to mention the fact that football is generally a bastion of patriarchal masculinity.

The ad itself features the story of Pam Tebow, who was allegedly told by doctors during her pregnancy with Timothy Tebow that she should abort because she had a medical condition that threatened her life. Like all pro-life advertisements, this is framed as a “choice for life,” but the ad neglects to mention that Ms. Tebow made this so-called decision in the Philippines, where abortion has been illegal since 1870. Can a choice really have been made under these circumstances? And what to the meaning of the choice to become a parent in general? Could we be missing something important here?

Organizations like NOW and The Center for Reproductive Rights have been very active in challenging the position that this ad represents choice. In a letter to Matthew Margo [PDF link], the Senior Vice President of Program Practices for CBS, The Center for Reproductive services contend that considering the dire consequences for women who are found guilty of terminating a pregnancy, it is highly unlikely that Ms. Tebow was indeed advised to procure an abortion. Both NOW and the Center for Reproductive Rights assert that this is ad does not meet the standards that CBS has set regarding accuracy in advertising.

NOW and The Center for Reproductive Rights present a cogent argument to invalidate the claims made by both Ms. Tebow and her son, Timothy. Pro-life groups in the U.S. have a history of presenting the women who have chosen to keep their babies as emblematic of an anti-abortion stance without acknowledging that these women only had the ability to choose because abortion is a legal procedure in the United States. The absence of free will invalidates the argument that a conscious choice has been made.

Meanwhile, if Focus on the Family had chosen to highlight the story of a woman who had indeed chosen motherhood, would the current opposition to this advertisement still exist?

When asked whether the opposition was based in supporting a woman’s right to choose or the falsehoods asserted in the advertisement, Dionne Scott the Senior Press Officer for The Center for Reproductive Rights, stated:

“We’re concerned that the Focus on the Family ad may be presenting a misleading picture of the reality of abortion in the Philippines and that CBS should determine whether the ad meets accuracy standards… CBS recently announced that it had relaxed its policy regarding advocacy ads. If that’s the case, then accepting an ad that tells a story that’s out-of-context and promoted by an anti-choice organization is a problem. And CBS should pull the ad and keep football as the main attraction.”

Though Ms. Scott once again cited the falsehoods of the clams made by Focus on the Family, you will note that in the end she asserts that the ad should simply be pulled, which suggests that she believes that Focus on the Family should be denied an opportunity to present their argument. The Super Bowl may not be the most advantageous venue to have such a highly politicized debate, but it should be acceptable to promote the idea that women do indeed choose to give birth. Validating choice means not reducing women’s reproductive decision to abortions, and supporting all women’s decisions, whether or not they decide to carry a pregnancy to term.

Both sides are so blissfully wedded to their ideological positions that the women they claim to advocate for become little more than props. Pro-lifers are often referred to as “pro-birth,” and pro-choicers are often referred to as “abortion advocates” because neither side openly admits that “choice” means that women will indeed make the decision that best suits them. The existence of legal and safe abortions does not mean that women will forgo motherhood, and this legitimate choice needs to be actively supported.

The fight for reproductive freedom came out of radical feminist organizing in the seventies and as such, it still suffers from the idea that women must be freed of domesticity. Mothering may not be in the life plans of numerous women, but there are many mothers that enter into this role with full awareness of both the consequences and the pleasures that it will bring.

Why is this reproductive choice not actively part of the discourse for those that claim that their priority is reproductive freedom? How can we socially understand that women have agency and legitimacy if we fixate solely on deaths that occur when women are forced to choose a back-alley abortion? Pro-choicers are falsely understood as “pro-abortion,” simply because there is a real failure on their part to talk about the other side of that choice – motherhood.

Clearly, Focus on the Family is not a pro-woman organization and their advertisement is full of mendacious assertions that need to be challenged, but the idea that women do indeed choose to become mothers is something that should always have a place in any and all advocacy. Motherhood is one of the most demanding roles that a woman will take on her lifetime, and when women are still not supported in this critical role, then how can any organization claim to truly be pro-woman?

8 thoughts on “Focus on the Family Super Bowl ad: both abortion AND motherhood matter

  1. Nobody is ever “forced to choose a back-alley abortion”. There are many supports for women who choose to give birth and adopt their babies out. If you listen to the Focus on the Family programs, you would know they are for women – which, yes, includes unborn women. So many women have serious psychological issues after having an abortion but nobody ever tells them why – how can it ever be a good thing or a right thing for a mother to harm her child in any way?

  2. “Meanwhile, if Focus on the Family had chosen to highlight the story of a woman who had indeed chosen motherhood, would the current opposition to this advertisement still exist?”

    Certainly. Focus on the Family is considered by many to be a hate group – to take an advert and plaster the url of such a hateful organisation in sucha high profile spot – but refusing adverts from those trying to counter their bile is grounds for protests no matter WHAT FoF was advertising

    I am also bewildered by the idea that an advert showing someone has CHOSEN to keep their baby is somehow a pro-life position? The pro-choice movement has never said women SHOULD abort – they’ve always said women should have the CHOICE to abort. This is just further deception from the anti-choicers – mispresenting the position of the pro-choice movement

    It shows, again, that the moralists have absolutely no problem with deception and little respect for honesty

  3. I think part of the reason feminists (as a rule) aren’t too keen on motherhood is that for far too long it was used as a club to keep women in line. If a woman couldn’t produce a child, she was either a nun or a failure as a woman. Once a woman had a child or five, she would be too busy caring for them to do anything else.
    Now, the reasoning is that if you want to be a success in life, you can either go the the supermom route or just opt out of the whole thing all together. And, given that the other side has mostly co-opted motherhood, it’s not considered a good option for women. Just my two cents. ( I suspect this has happened with marriage too.)

  4. I don’t see how people can argue both: a) that the legal status of abortion doesn’t matter to the number of abortions performed; and b) that if a woman doesn’t seek an abortion in a situation in which it’s not legal, she hasn’t made a choice. She’s made a choice of a different sort than the woman for whom abortion is legal, but she’s still made a choice.

  5. I think the point is when abortion is illegal, it’s a choice between going through the pregnancy, or doing horrible and possibly lethal damage to the body. In that situation there are no good choices for an unwanted pregnancy.

  6. There is no way to accurately enumerate illegal abortions, since the successful ones did not come to the attention of the law. Women who were brought in to the hospital with uterine-origin sepsis would not be treated unless they confessed to the abortion and give the name of the abortionist to the police. Hospitals had entire wards designated for women with septic abortion, and these wards were generally full.

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