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Focus on the Family

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CBS will air an ad during the Super Bowl in which college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam Tebow, discuss her decision not to have an abortion despite doctors’ advice to do so. The news is creating precisely the stir that its sponsor, the Christian conservative group Focus on the Family, was almost certainly hoping for. Women’s groups have called on CBS not to air the ad, arguing that the Super Bowl is no place for one of the most divisive issues in politics. CBS reportedly has approved the script and plans to run the ad.

The irony is that the Tebow story has absolutely nothing to do with the question a woman with an unwanted pregnancy faces. Pam Tebow wanted to have her fifth child, but had become ill during a trip to the Philippines. It was on that basis that doctors recommended an abortion. She ignored them, mother and baby came through just fine, and he went on to win the Heisman trophy. God bless.

What does that have to do with the situation facing a teenage girl pregnant with a child she cannot raise, or a mother who is told that her much-wanted child has a chromosomal condition that is inconsistent with life? What does it have to do with a rape or incest victim and her right not to carry the child of her abuser?

I know plenty of stories like the Tebows’. Some of them end happily. Some do not. Few things are as awful as being told that the child you are carrying may not, or will not, live. Sometimes doctors are wrong, and sometimes they aren’t. Are the Tebows really telling American women to ignore their doctors’ advice, even when that advice is based on the best medical information? Are they telling women that they should risk their lives rather than have an abortion? Even the dissenters to Roe v. Wade would not go so far.

The news that teenage pregnancies are up for the first time in years is what we should all be concerned about, working on, thinking about. No one is for abortion, at least not anyone who should be taken seriously. I have never met a woman who had an abortion who viewed it as anything other than a painful, difficult and often heartbreaking decision, particularly when the abortion is the result of medical advice that the woman cannot sustain the pregnancy or the baby will not survive.

Thankfully, in the decades since Pam Tebow’s pregnancy, diagnostic techniques have improved, allowing doctors to give better advice. Hopefully today, her doctors would have been able to reassure her that both she and the baby would be fine, and abortion would not even have been an issue.

Given that, the only connection between the Tebow story and the real abortion debate is its ability to make women who have made the painful choice of abortion feel bad. This is emotional manipulation, pure and simple.

The not so subtle implication is that the fetus you aborted would have grown up to be some kind of superstar. How ridiculous. And frankly, how insulting. Without an athletic gene in my body, I can certainly say that I never expected any child of mine to win a Heisman. Like most mothers, I prayed only that they would be healthy. The suggestion that abortion is in any way connected to the value or the potential talents of the baby-to-be is so offensive that it is hard to believe Focus on the Family doesn’t see the distorted underside of their own advertisement.

So be it. I might go to the bathroom during that ad or make popcorn. Focus on the Family is getting attention and will get more. But it is doing so by running an ad that is deceptive and ultimately cruel.

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