Super Bowl ads, as a rule, invoke broad stereotypes in the name of cheap laughs. The men are mostly hen-pecked idiots, and the women, shrewish, air-headed skanks. Pam and Tim Tebow’s controversial ad was tasteful and affecting in comparison with the corporate schlock around it. If anything, the ad was so discreet the viewer could easily miss its pro-life message.
When Pam Tebow was pregnant with Tim in the Philippines, where she and her husband were working as missionaries, she became seriously ill with amoebic dysentery. The disease caused the placental lining to separate from her uterus, a condition known as “placental abruption.” Tim’s chances of surviving were small, and if she trying to deliver him meant risking dying or becoming infertile. But Pam was opposed to abortion, and decided to try to have her child. Tim, of course, not only survived, but has grown up to be one of the greatest college football players of all time, admired not only for his athletic gifts but also for his character. As Dave Andrusko, the editor the National Right to Life News, put it, “this amazing young man is able to share his many gifts because, and only because, Pam Tebow said no to abortion and yes to life.”
That doesn’t mean everyone will agree draw the same lesson from the Tebow’s story. As William Saletan writes, not every mother diagnosed with placental abruption goes on to deliver a healthy, Heisman-award winning son. Some women who make Pam’s decision will die in childbirth or permanently lose their ability to have children. The children they might have had obviously can’t make commercials. Besides, if Pam had died, she would have left Tim’s four older brothers and sisters without a mother. And, as NARAL Pro-Choice America points out, Pam was allowed to make her own choice, rather than being forced to do what others thought was right. It’s one thing to decide what for yourself what the right thing to do is, and quite another to insist that everyone else do the same thing you do.
Nevertheless, the Tebows’ commercial was certainly fair comment, and their view worth considering. Pam Tebow has every right to be proud of her son and be glad today she made the decision she did. Other people who have a different perspective should be equally free to speak their minds.
That’s just the problem. CBS ostensibly has a “no advocacy” policy, and has turned down ads promoting same-sex marriage and the ethical treatment of animals in the past. And as discreet as the Tebow ad was, it directed viewers to the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, which is not only against allowing women to make their own reproductive decisions, but is also against same-sex marriage and what it calls “militant feminism.” CBS probably decided to air the Tebow ad because Tim Tebow is hugely popular among football fans and because the ad itself was fairly unobjectionable. CBS probably didn’t intend to use its Super Bowl broadcast to take a pro-choice stand. But by giving airtime to one viewpoint and not others, that’s just what it did. If CBS really wants to claim neutrality, it should give pro-choice groups equal time—or keep advocacy ads off the air altogether.