To read the mainstream media spin in the Tim Tebow / anti-abortion ad controversy, you’d think that we Hysterical Feminists ™ were at it again, getting whipped into a censor-happy frenzy just because some lady decided to have a baby.
The issue, though, isn’t that we disagree with Pam Tebow’s choice (although it’s worth pointing out that she had a choice she now wishes to take away from other women, and that the choice she made — to continue a pregnancy after she became ill while on a mission trip in the Phillipines — isn’t actually available to most women in the Phillipines, where abortion is illegal and most procedures happen clandestinely); it isn’t that we don’t think anti-choice ads should be allowed on the air; it isn’t that we think anti-choice views should be censored. It’s that CBS has, for the past few years, regularly rejected ads from left-of-center organizations — MoveOn.org, PeTA, and the United Church of Christ. CBS was clear that it did not accept ads on contentious or controversial subjects such as, apparently, democracy, animal rights and gay rights. But an ad about abortion, from Focus on the Family — one of the most radical, right-leaning organizations out there? Apparently totally fine.
That’s why pro-choice and lefty folks were angry and calling for this ad to be pulled. I personally think those calls were not the best strategy, and that we should have focused on trying to buy our own ad, but that opportunity has passed. Even though I don’t support CBS pulling the ad, I am floored at the hypocrisy of their shifting standards. It also adds insult to injury that this ad is being aired during the Superbowl — not a “man’s event” by any real measure, but an event that is widely perceived to be All About Men. It just feels a little shameless and extra offensive to run an ad that forwards an anti-woman political position at an event where the advertising has traditionally focused on Stuff Dudes Like (beer, trucks and titties, for the most part).
I don’t begrudge Tebow using his fame to forward his political views. I don’t agree with him, but go for it. I think CBS should play the ad (I also think they should have played the ads from MoveOn and UCC). I also think that “Look, a Heisman trophy winner’s mother could have had an abortion!” is a really silly and shallow anti-abortion argument, since any set of circumstances can lead one person or another to exist or not exist. The fact that my existence wouldn’t have happened without WWII and without Australia’s old policies of not allowing certain physically disabled immigrants does not make WWII or that policy good things; the fact that Hitler’s mom didn’t have an abortion doesn’t mean that abortion should be mandatory. The fact that I have friends who would not have existed if their mothers hadn’t had earlier abortions doesn’t make abortion a universally perfect choice. The abortion debate is not, and should not be, centered around the existence of potential future Heisman trophy winners. A turn in that direction is pretty easily smacked down, so I’m not convinced that feminists are just too scared to address the ad itself.
It’s the hypocrisy that is frustrating. It’s the fact that an admittedly tame anti-choice ad is considered mainstream enough to air, but an equally tame ad promoting the basic humanity of gay people (and God’s love of gay people) is controversial. It’s the fact that abortion — a woman’s most basic right to control the number and spacing of her children, and her most basic right to not have the government interfere and legally compel her to carry a pregnancy to term — is still one of the most hot-button issues in the United States. This isn’t just politics; it’s a human rights and a bodily integrity issue. And yes, some of us are a little salty about the fact that our claim to our own bodies is often spun as immoral and controversial, while it’s just peachy for others to purport that we exist as vessels to produce future Great Men like Tim Tebow.
CBS claims it has changed its policy and now allows more controversial ad compaigns, so it would have been interesting to see if they actually stood by that had a pro-choice group wanted to buy ad space. Of course, they did just reject an ad from a gay dating website and an ad for Dante’s Inferno (because it used the phrase “Go to Hell”), so maybe we have our answer.
In all of this controversy, though, there isn’t much mention of the fact that Focus on the Family spent $3 million on this ad — how much money do you think that organization spends on actually helping women? In honor of Tim Tebow and his mother — who, lucky for her, actually had a choice — I’ll be making a donation to the National Network of Abortion Funds, a network of more than 100 local organizations that helps low-income women cover the cost of abortion. I hope you will donate too. I have a feeling that if NNAF had an extra $3 million laying around, it wouldn’t be using it to compete for ad time with Doritos.
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