Focus On The Family's End Run Around The Pro-Choice MovementS

Has the pro-choice movement lost the rhetorical battle on Pam Tebow and Focus On The Family's Super Bowl ad before it even airs? It's starting to look that way.

It's not a surprise that anti-choice activists would spin opposition to the ad — which shows Pam Tebow describing her choosing not to have an abortion during a complicated pregnancy, eventually giving birth to Heisman-winning Tim — as confirmation of their belief that pro-choice means pro-abortion. What's more striking is how several mainstream opinion venues have essentially come to the defense of the advertisement and critiqued the strategy of groups like NOW, The Feminist Majority, and The Women's Media Center.

From The New York Times's editorial over the weekend:

The would-be censors are on the wrong track. Instead of trying to silence an opponent, advocates for allowing women to make their own decisions about whether to have a child should be using the Super Bowl spotlight to convey what their movement is all about: protecting the right of women like Pam Tebow to make their private reproductive choices.

Sally Jenkins, The Washington Post's sports columnist, was harsher still:

I'm pro-choice, and Tebow clearly is not. But based on what I've heard in the past week, I'll take his side against the group-think, elitism and condescension of the "National Organization of Fewer and Fewer Women All The Time." For one thing, Tebow seems smarter than they do.

Tebow's 30-second ad hasn't even run yet, but it already has provoked "The National Organization for Women Who Only Think Like Us" to reveal something important about themselves: They aren't actually "pro-choice" so much as they are pro-abortion... If the pro-choice stance is so precarious that a story about someone who chose to carry a risky pregnancy to term undermines it, then CBS is not the problem.

Also in The Washington Post, former NARAL president Kate Michelman and former Catholics For Choice president Frances Kissling argued in a piece published Sunday that the pro-choice movement needed to look to its anti-abortion foes for strategic advice. Once the talk focused on murdering babies, as in this clip they dug up from the American Life League's 1989 anti-abortion ad starring football players, which needs to be seen to be believed. (It does not appear that the Tebows' ad contains references to "abortion death squads," or a little boy saying, "I love you, Dad. It's great to be alive.")

Now, note Michelman and Kissling, "pro-lifers" cloak their message in warm and fuzzy imagery (which, according to this Mother Jones story, is an entirely conscious move to appeal to millennials, among others):

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.

Of course, it's strange to see Michelman and Kissling talk about the failures of the pro-choice movement to win independents as if they were dismayed observers when they themselves have been major leaders in that movement. And their op-ed has already been eagerly embraced by the anti-abortion crowd, including Feminists For Life and various conservative bloggers.

Nonetheless, it seems like some reproductive rights activists pushing back at the ad's message have been taking some of these criticisms into account. Here's what Terry O'Neill of NOW had to say about it on Larry King Live last night, where she was pitted against Focus On The Family's Jim Daly:

"We can all celebrate that Pam Tebow was able to make the decision for herself about her own health and her own future and her own family," she said, "but another woman in the very same situation, Focus on the Family would not be celebrating another woman making a different choice, and the National Organization For Women wants the law to continue to respect women's ability to make those decisions for themselves."

Meanwhile, World Can't Wait is holding a protest on Thursday February 4 at noon, outside CBS Headquarters in New York, pointing out, among other things, the double standard in previous, left-leaning ads.

In this clip from Larry King Live, Daly sheds a little bit more light on the process, saying Focus On The Family negotiated with CBS about taking out any mention that both Pam and Tim Tebow's lives were at risk.

Daly insisted several times that the ad was not political. Disingenuous? Yes. But so far, looking pretty damn successful at boxing in the pro-choice movement. There's always next year's Super Bowl, assuming you think that's the best use of an advocacy group money. Maybe these groups can start taking donations now.

Tebow's Super Bowl Ad Isn't Intolerant; Its Critics Are [WaPo]
Super Bowl Censorship [NYT]
What Tim Tebow's Super Bowl Ad Can Teach The Pro-Choice Movement [WaPo]
Tim Tebow, Pro-Life And What Young Women Want [Newsweek/On Faith]
Tim Tebow And The Anti-Choice Super Bowl Ad [Feministe]
GOP Hipster Makeover? [MoJo]
Why Is NOW So Afraid of a Pro-Life, Pro-Family Ad? [Fox News]

Earlier: Women Weigh Best Response To Tebow Anti-Abortion Super Bowl Ad