Like many Super Bowl commercials, this year’s “Tim Tebow ad” generated a controversy that extended beyond its 30-second running time, both before and after it aired. Provocative Super Bowl ads created expressly to garner priceless “free” publicity are now one of the big game’s “traditions,” along with tailgate parties and starspangled half-time shows.
What set the Tebow controversy apart was that, instead of serving up another smirking enticement to unbridled sexuality, this ad dealt with a perfectly natural consequence of the sex act: the conception and birth of a child. It says something about postmodern culture that that particular message made the Tebow ad the most “offensive” commercial in Super Bowl history.
In fact, CBS’ decision to air it sparked a noisy debate between the nation’s pro-life and anti-life factions. The spot, sponsored by Focus on the Family, featured college quarterback Tim Tebow—a Heisman Trophy winner and outspoken Christian—honoring his mother’s decision not to abort him despite her difficult pregnancy.
The ad’s pro-life message was lowkey— so much so that according to a Pew poll after the fact, a small but representational sampling of the Super Bowl’s 106 million viewers weren’t sure quite what the commercial’s key message was supposed to be. Even the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, Frances Kissling, told the Los Angeles Times, “If there had not been all of that publicity over the last two weeks, this ad could have passed almost unnoticed. Who would have known what they’re talking about? It’s so subtle.”
That didn’t prevent pro-abortion activists from attacking the ad, and the people behind it, with hyperbolic venom. Predictably, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women (NOW) denounced the commercial, sight unseen.
Something called the Women’s Media Center called the 30-second spot deceptive. This “benign telling of the Tebow family story,” they complained, “attempts to hide Focus on the Family’s true anti-choice, antiwoman, and homophobic agenda.” (That group’s spokesperson also revealed the level of her grasp of the competitive nature of athletic contests when she scolded CBS for “using sports to divide rather than unite.”)
What went largely unnoticed were the fissures within the pro-abortion movement that the Tebow ad inadvertently revealed. Polls show more Americans calling themselves pro-life than ever before. Meanwhile, ubiquitous ultrasounds have put the lie to that famous feminist fib about a fetus being “just a blob of tissue.” Like that tone-deaf Women’s Media Center representative, the proabortion movement finds itself out of touch with the average American. Some of its members are starting to realize this.
Don’t underestimate how difficult it probably was for Kissling, and her counterpart at NARAL Pro-Choice America, Kate Michelman, to scold their sisters in the pages of the Washington Post, at the height of the Tebow ad controversy. In a January 31 op-ed, Kissling and Michelman wrote, “For abortion rights supporters, picking on Tim Tebow and his mom is not the way to go.”
They continued: “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.”
That same week, pro-abortion journalist Michelle Goldberg wrote in the left-leaning American Prospect that “health care reform hinges on abortion, but the pro-choice movement has already lost.” Goldberg admitted that, “In truth, after all, health care reform has been a nightmare for the pro-choice movement. If health care passes at all— an increasingly distant possibility—it is likely to eliminate the abortion coverage that millions of American women already have.”
Goldberg added that, “because the future of abortion rights in America is deeply entwined with the future of the Democratic Party, the failure of health care reform, and the consequent weakening of the Democrats, would ultimately be disastrous for choice.”
She said the pro-abortion movement “made a mistake going into health care reform.” It “compromised too soon and underestimated the implacability of the opposition.”
Progressives don’t always air their dirty laundry so publicly.
“I think what we’re seeing is a widening fissure” in the pro-abortion movement, says Jill Stanek, a former nurse who now writes about pro-life issues for the website World Net Daily. “I first spotted this during the Clinton/Obama campaign, when ideologues (feminists) flocked to [Hillary] Clinton and the industry (Planned Parenthood, etc.) flocked to Obama,” she said in an interview with CWR.
Stanek wasn’t impressed by that conciliatory Washington Post op-ed about the Tim Tebow ad. “Savvy proaborts like Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling are merely trying to get those on the sinking Titanic to remain calm,” Stanek explains. “The thing is, they really can’t stop protesting every little thing we do like the Tebow ad, or legislation we introduce, like the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. To do so would be to give us ground. And they can’t.”
“Truth and goodness will ultimately prevail. What can we do to take advantage of the fissure? I think just keep doing what we’re doing, with prayer coming first. By doing so we provide a lot of the ammo for their growing circular firing squad,” she says.
Paul Tuns agrees. The editor of the pro-life newspaper The Interim says, “Abortion advocates seem divided because they are divided.” Last August, his paper ran a story about that movement’s struggle to make minor concessions and adjust its rhetoric.
“Some abortion facilities have teenage moms write notes to the unborn child they are about to eliminate through abortion,” Tuns told CWR. “By treating the fetus as a human being, they are connecting to the teen despite her ambiguity, and att empting to address her concerns without denying them. I doubt this would have happened two decades ago.”
It wasn’t until 1995, Tuns points out, that Naomi Wolf (a “second-wave feminist” touted as the new Gloria Steinem) famously admitt ed that the fetus was a human being.
Her statement of the obvious actually represented a seismic shift that some “pro-abortion feminists are still struggling with,” Tuns explained. “Ultrasound has shown ‘the unborn child is a just a blob of cells’ to be a lie, so the movement has had to adjust. Some have, some haven’t.”
Echoing Stanek’s observations, Tuns pointed to the resentments some proabortion activists still have against the Clintons, who tried to mollify voters by insisting that Democrats merely want abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare.”
The phrase sounded good on the stump, but as Adam Graham of the Truth and Hope Report puts it dryly, “Abortion providers want less abortion like Philip Morris wants less smoking.”
“Abortion clinics need more clients, not fewer,” says Graham. “However, to say it publicly is horrible public relations.”
So are stories like Abby Johnson’s. The Texas Planned Parenthood director quit after watching an abortion via ultrasound, then became a pro-life campaigner. “I just thought ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and it was just like a flash that hit me and I thought, ‘That’s it,’” Johnson said.
She later revealed that Planned Parenthood was “struggling under the weight of a tough economy,” and that she had been told by her former bosses “to bring in more women who wanted abortions” because “that’s where the money was.”
With revelations like that in the news, it isn’t surprising that “horrible public relations” is a theme that comes up repeatedly when the divisions between pro abortion activists are made public. The Tebow ad controversy cast the issue into high relief. The irony that supposedly “sophisticated” liberals with millions of dollars at their disposal were bested in the public relations department by the relatively low-budget Focus on the Family did not go unnoticed, either.
Jeff Emanuel of the influential conservative website RedState.com called Focus on the Family’s public relations instincts in this instance “brilliant” and “masterful.”
“When CBS refused to pull the ad, pro-abortion activists…went into full character-assassination mode,” which “rubbed a good portion of the American population the wrong way.” This vicious over-reaction, Emanuel continued, “exposed the real pro-abortion Left to a larger audience than, perhaps, had ever seen them in their natural state: as abortion-loving autocrats who despised choice almost as much as (infant) life itself.”
Combined with the Tebows’ quiet, dignified responses to these attacks— and the “soft sell” message of the commercial itself, in which the word “abortion” was never used—the entire affair was a “win” for pro-lifers.
Even after the ad aired, however, the controversy continued. Later that month, a Focus on the Family display ad appeared on the website of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), but not for long. The ad pictured a man and his child, with the caption, “All I want for my son is for him to grow up knowing how to do the right thing.” The NCAA received complaints from members who protested the association’s acceptance of advertisements from a “homophobic” group, and took it down after less than 48 hours.
In fact, Focus on the Family didn’t even know that display ad was running anywhere on the Internet until this new “controversy” popped up. As it turned out, Focus on the Family’s Super Bowl ad agreement with CBS included display ad placements in “ancillary” outlets, one of which was the NCAA website.
The short-lived misunderstanding nevertheless generated more stories about the Tebow ad in newspapers and on blogs, thereby extending Focus on the Family’s “free” pro-life publicity another couple of days.
Back in the 1970s, feminists joked that “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” Like their now-debunked “statistic” that reports of domestic violence go up every Super Bowl Sunday, that “sacrament” joke is rarely heard today. Maybe that’s because even some pro-abortion diehards realize that their cause has indeed become something “sacred” to themselves: a “sacred cow” no one is permitt ed to question, even for 30 seconds. And such brittleness is not attractive.
A movement that is rendered apoplectic by a half-minute-long Super Bowl commercial featuring a beaming mother and her loving son is nowhere near as strong and armorplated as it pretends to be. That’s something for pro-lifers to keep in mind as the battle continues.
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