Tim Tebow and I have at least one thing in common. Our mothers were both counseled to abort us. I should say I’m grateful my mother didn’t listen to the advice. But that would be a lie. I’m not so presumptuous to think that had she done so, or had a miscarriage achieved the same result, the person I am now wouldn’t have existed somehow, somewhere, maybe in better form, maybe in worse. Our soul’s itinerary isn’t ours to set. What I am grateful for is that in my mother’s 15 years as a host of her own television show, she never used me as a prop for her moral assumptions, or to preach imponderables, as Tim Tebow and his mother are set to do in a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl.
I have no objections to issue ads appearing during the Super Bowl or any other show — whether they’re anti-abortion or pro-druids. Between issue ads and the stupefying sludge of breast-enhanced beer, chips, car, phone, pill-popping and dot-com commercials, give me the issue kind any day.
But networks are arbitrary with their issue ads, leaving it to some cryptic “standards and practices” department to judge what’s appropriate for air. A church’s ad welcoming gays gets knocked out but a ministry’s ad bashing abortion isn’t. Why? CBS promises to be less arbitrary. That’s not enough. Just as the separation of church and state keeps both clean of each other’s corruptive influences, a separation of fact and fantasy should keep television commercials from being corrupted by sheer speculation. Pharmaceuticals are banned from making curative or any other claims they can’t support. The same standard should apply to any other peddler, whatever the product — or belief.
Based on what Tebow himself leaked about the ad with his mother, the message is two-fold. Abortion is not good. Family is. There’s nothing controversial about that. There’s nothing inherently virtuous about families, either, and many families are downright toxic, but the family unit is older than Adam (if the origin of species is any guide) and as the social animals we are, not to mention the tax benefits they bestow, families are an attractive option. And even the most ardent liberal who favors a woman’s right to choose should concede that in most circumstances, it would be preferable to avoid abortion. Between preferable and every woman’s reality, of course, is a vast gulf that tends to be nobody’s business but the woman’s. That opinion, fortunately, is backed up by law — for now.
The problem with the ad isn’t the story Tebow tells of his mother’s “courage” not to abort him when she got sick. It’s the ad’s two bogus theological implications presented as truth under the banner of “Celebrate family, celebrate life” : That family and “choosing” life are synonymous, as if those who abort or miscarry have lesser families that devalue life. And more insidiously, that aborting Tebow would have prevented a great Heisman Trophy winner from Florida from being born. You don’t quite grasp the enormity of that perspective’s awfulness until you look its flipside in the face: Is Tebow really suggesting that there was any kind of celebratory life-choosing because the likes of Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden weren’t aborted? Does Tebow really want to go there?
Tebow is who he is because he was born and raised into what he became. That’s saying the obvious. Just as obviously, no one can say why, how or when Tebow’s cells and soul took a turn for greatness as opposed to mediocrity or worse. His mother’s choice, as unquestionably honorable as it was, should not be confused (as Tebow’s ad does) with the preposterous notion that she chose to gestate a family-loving football great as opposed to, say, a violent felon, though we know for a fact that there are many more of those than there are football greats, and their mothers have to live with the reality of their “choice,” minus the year’s biggest television audience to share it with. The point being that Tebow’s message, by linking abortion with a life fully lived, is pretending to tell us something about the mysteries of life’s origins that nobody knows — not Tebow, not Pope Benedict, not Stephen Hawking, not my pet ferret, if I had one.
Of course, it isn’t Tebow alone proposing that rubbish. It’s Focus on the Family, James Dobson’s Colorado-based advocate of Sharia law in Christian translation (think homophobia, patriarchy and clerical authoritarianism). The organization had the luxury and money to choose (and use) Tebow as iconic model to shill its fancy. It’s a different kind of choice — as selective and self-serving as it is judgmental of those selected less fortunately by fate. On that score, Focus on the Family is nothing if not pro-choice.