Feminists are up in arms and this time they’ve set their sights on the Superbowl. Instead of criticizing scantily clad cheerleaders or ads that use sex to sell beer, their fury is descending on the story of a mild-mannered mother of five children. This Superbowl Sunday, CBS will broadcast a 30-second advertisement featuring Pam Tebow and her son Tim, a Heisman Trophy winner and current Florida Gator’s quarterback (pictured left). Pam will allegedly share her story of how she chose, against a doctor’s advice, not to abort Tim when she was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery during a 1987 mission trip to the Philippines. The President of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, said the ad was paid for with financial gifts from “very generous and committed friends” in order to promote a theme of “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.”
As for feminist organizations that advocate legal abortion, they have a different response to the ad (emphasis added by me):
“. . . anti-abortion vitriol has resulted in escalated violence against reproductive health service providers and their patients, including the murder of Dr. George Tiller during Sunday morning service at his church. We sincerely hope you do not want CBS associated with this brand of un-American hate.” – Women’s Media Center (in a letter to CBS demanding they not air the Tim Tebow ad)
“Make no mistake about this ad: it’s offensive to women. . . Standing alone, it sends the message that all women who give birth are heroes; it sends a message that abortion is always a mistake; and it is insulting to the one in three women in this country who have abortions.” – National Organization for Women
The most bizarre accusation, however, comes from Amanda Marcotte who writes:
“I’m far from the first person to point out that the religious right has fallen into the habit of celebrating women who made the choice they approve of, and by accident, this puts them in the position of celebrating choice. But it really goes deeper than that. This strategy of celebrating women who have babies when others might not really points out how the dignity of all women—including anti-abortion women—requires the right to choose.”
Other pro-choice bloggers concur with Marcotte. Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check writes:
“The Tebows are fundamentalist Christians and are “anti-choice” which, as Amanda Marcotte points out, in effect makes them “pro-choice,” because they have a choice to make even when circumstances are not ideal.”
So what is Amanda Marcotte’s fundamental argument? She is saying that by praising women for making a particular “reproductive choice,” pro-life advocates are implicitly praising choice itself (any choice) and that if abortion were illegal then their “choice” would be meaningless. Therefore, she argues that abortion should remain legal in order to maintain a woman’s ability to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
But how does it follow that because pro-life advocates support some “reproductive choices,” they should in turn support all “reproductive choices”? If the unborn are not human beings, then Marcotte would be right that we should not use the law to favor one “reproductive choice” over another. But if the unborn are human beings then the choice to have an abortion could never be defended by the argument that “the choice to give birth is dignified if and only if it’s taken to be a choice not to have an abortion.”
Let me illustrate:
Imagine you live in Mississippi during the early 1950’s. It is legal for storeowners to deny service to customers because of their race. One white restaurant owner, Mrs. Bowte, decides to buck the trend and serve African Americans in her restaurant alongside white customers. Civil rights activists praise Mrs. Bowte for the choice she has made because it was very difficult in light of the easier choice of the “status quo” of discrimination. Segregationists find it offensive for Mrs. Bowte’s choice to be used by civil rights activists as a tool to take away their “choice” to run their restaurants and businesses the way they feel is appropriate. What if they offered Amanda Marcotte’s response and simply took the word “choice” and made it a euphemism for segregation? They say:
“I’m far from the first person to point out that the anti-white progressivists have fallen into the habit of celebrating white restaurant owners who made the choice they approve of, and by accident, this puts them in the position of celebrating choice. But it really goes deeper than that. This strategy of celebrating white restaurant owners who serve African-American customers when others might not really points out how the dignity of all white restaurant owners —including anti-segregation white restaurant owners —requires the right to choose.”
Outlawing abortion (and being against the choice of abortion) no more undermines the dignity of women who choose to give birth than outlawing segregation (and being against the choice of segregation) undermines the dignity of restaurant owners who choose to serve customers of different races.
Pro-choice advocates seem to operate under the mistaken assumption that unless abortion is legal women will literally have “no choices.” Some of these advocates claim that it’s the broad notion of choice (all choices equal and available) that’s essential for women like Pam Tebow to have the right to give birth or even be considered persons at all! Marcotte writes, “Under an anti-choice regime, women are not regarded as moral actors who can do things like make choices that can be evaluated by outsiders according to their own moral compass.” But this is clearly false.
Even if abortion were illegal, women would still have the choice to have an abortion because you can still choose to do illegal things (isn’t that why we have the police and court systems?). Marcotte is confusing choice with freedom. A person can choose to murder someone, but they are not free to do so because murder is both wrong and illegal. Likewise, a person can always choose to have an abortion, but whether they should be “free” to choose to have one depends entirely on whether or not the unborn are human beings.
It would be nice if Marcotte would address this point instead of ignoring it by focusing on the word “choice”. If abortion does kill innocent human beings, then making it illegal actually treats women as moral agents because it holds them accountable for engaging in a moral wrong. However, whether or not women are fully aware of how wrong abortion is (i.e. how culpable they are) remains a subject for another post.
In conclusion, unless people are brainwashed to act like robots, they will always be able to make choices. Marcotte is mistaken when she claims that by “celebrating choices we approve of,” pro-life advocates are celebrating “choice itself.” It makes sense to celebrate some “choices” because individual choices can be morally good, neutral, or evil. But celebrating the broad concept of “choice,” which is neutral on its own (although it never functions that way), would be like celebrating the fact that people aren’t robots.
Freedom, on the other hand, is a moral good that should be celebrated because it is the legal ability to choose among various good (or neutral) choices. Unlike an evil choice, there is no such thing as an “evil freedom” because the term contradicts the idea of freedom itself. Even the freedom to do bad things, such as uttering offensive speech, serves the greater good of sustaining a free “marketplace of ideas.”
Focus on the Family has the freedom to create this television ad for the same reason Amanda Marcotte has the freedom to protest it, because those choices advance the good of non-violent public discourse. Pam Tebow has the freedom to give birth to her son because that choice advances the good of nurturing human life. But no one should have the so-called “freedom” to choose an elective abortion. Any instrumental good that comes from ending an unintended pregnancy is outweighed by the greater intrinsic evil of ending an innocent human being’s life in the process.
Written by Trent Horn. To learn more about Trent’s mission to train thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, please visit www.jfaweb.org.