Anti-Abortion Debate Hits Superbowl XXXSomething


On February 7th, over 100 million viewers in the US will sit down to watch the biggest event in the US sporting calendar – the Super Bowl. While we all might think it’s just rugby with more protective clothing and less fake blood scandals, the Americans take it pretty seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they orchestrate elaborate shows for half time, with cheerleaders and singers and accidental strip-shows from members of the Jackson family. As you can imagine, with all of those lovely viewers, advertising space is at a real premium, with 30second adverts costing as much as £3million.

However, this year, one advert in particular is causing a real storm – the ad (or ‘commercial’ as those other-side of the road, elevators and sidewalkers like to call them) is a short ad from the evangelical Christian organisation ‘Focus on the Family’, showing one of the teams’ star quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother Pam. The ad in particular focuses on Pam’s decision to ignore medical advice to have an abortion – stressing the anti-abortion message of the religious far right in America.

Aside from stirring up the obvious anti-abortion debate that’s been raging in the US for years, the affair has surprised many, and the controversy has been summed up well by Clay Travis, an author who has written extensively about Tebow:

“It’s such a flashpoint subject and I’m surprised that CBS would go there after the fuss that was caused by Janet Jackson’s nipple. It’s not even a matter of whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, I think most people would find an advert dealing with abortion to be out of place during the Super Bowl,”

The star of the ad, Tebow, is a home-schooled son of missionaries who takes his religion seriously enough to go as far as wearing black make-up with references to biblical passages during games. He’s also repeatedly talked about his “mission”, noting that football enables him to spread “God’s word” and making it clear that his talent at the sport is secondary to his religious beliefs. Hard to see how a bastardised form of Rugby interrupted every 5 seconds for adverts enables God’s word, but He of mysterious ways etc etc.

The Superbowl has a history of being the target of controversial adverts, with advocacy groups and religious groups aiming to cash in on the wide audience to spread their messages. Previous ads that were rejected include an anti-abortion ad showing President Obama alongside the slogan ‘Life. imagine the Potential’, as well as ads by Animal rights extremists PeTA and other religious affiliations. Those ads were rejected due to the policy of CBS to refuse advertising that “touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance”.

This also isn’t the first time Focus on the Family Action have been in the headlines, having run an ad on its website last year calling on members to pray for “a rain of biblical proportions” during Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. The rain – biblical proportions or otherwise- didn’t come. Perhaps God’s a Democrat.

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  1. #1 by Malcolm on February 2, 2010 - 10:55

    Tim Tebow does not play for either of the teams participating in the Superbowl. In fact, he doesn’t play in the NFL at all – he still is in college.

  2. #2 by Stu on February 2, 2010 - 14:13

    Good post. Tad disappointed about your dislike of US Football though.

    All I would say on this subject is that anyone who hasn’t should read Sam Harris’ Letter To A Christian Nation. In particular the chapter on abortion and stem cell research.

    Also, I wouldn’t have labelled PeTA “extremist.” As a committed carnivore who has worked in an abbatoir I don’t personally agree with their objectives but their methods are, as far as I can see, lawful and decent. Unless somebody knows something I don’t?

  3. #3 by Dana on February 2, 2010 - 14:30

    Well I’ll be looking forward to this commercial during the superbowl as well as the group of us pointing and laughing at it.

    I’ve been seeing an uprising in religious commercials lately but to have one during the superbowl, that’s impressive. I think its also a little biased as the largest group of people watching the superbowl are male. Is it a way to fill men’s minds that they are the ones who make the choice and not the women?

  4. #4 by Gittins on February 2, 2010 - 14:53

    All the major religions seem to still be patriarchal in their power structures (no female pope or ayatollah). And the abortion debate definitely has aspects of men attempting patriarchal control over women’s bodies.

  5. #5 by AexMagd on February 2, 2010 - 14:53

    Well if they’re not extremists then they’re a hair’s breadth – providing financial and moral support for violent groups like the Animal Liberation Front in the past and, probably though I don’t know for sure, still today. I dislike PETA anyway because of their quite often sexist adverts, but supporting the ALF is really bad

  6. #6 by Dana on February 2, 2010 - 15:28

    Agreed. I’m glad I’m not the only one that notices how unfair it is.

  7. #7 by Stu on February 2, 2010 - 15:39

    Ok, I stand corrected. I’ll do a bit of research on PETA. I wasn’t aware of their support for ALF and I’ve never seen a sexist ad either. Although I, for reasons already stated, wouldn’t pay too much attention to animal rights ads anyway.

    Both are good reasons to dislike an organisation.

  8. #8 by Stu on February 2, 2010 - 15:45

    I know this is off topic but I really do need to retract my first statement about PETA. What a bunch of extremists!!

  9. #9 by Gittins on February 2, 2010 - 16:37

    Interestingly CBS rejected a commercial for a gay dating website at the same time as allowing this anti-abortion one. It seems like they are promoting a conservative political agenda.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2010/0130/Why-Tebow-and-not-gay-dating-ad-CBS-on-Super-Bowl-hot-seat

  10. #10 by Marsh on February 2, 2010 - 16:50

    Ah, cheers for the correction, should have done a bit more research! Sorry!

  11. #11 by Marsh on February 2, 2010 - 17:19

    Oh, yeah, PeTA are seriously nuts. Check out the Penn and Teller episode on them, they found:

    – Ads comparing an abbatoir to Auschwitz and calling meat-eating ‘the holocaust on your plate’
    – Statements from the PeTA leader saying that pets are modern day slaves
    – Funding for the ALF, including sending an ALF arsonist on a tour of schools
    – Buying and operating a giant walk-in refrigerator in order to euthanise the animals it couldn’t save – %-wise more than local animal testing labs…

    Eeep, is all I can say!

    Also, it’s not that I dislike American Football, I just find it funny to take the piss out of our dear American neighbours about it…!

  12. #12 by London Lulz on February 2, 2010 - 22:07

    Abortion is an interesting issue, and very divisive. However I will say this:

    Anyone who says that it is men exercising authority over women’s bodies is missing the whole point. A lot of people cannot understand the difference between a foetus at 23 weeks and one at 24 weeks (especially given that its heart starts beating at 3 weeks, brainwaves appear at 6 weeks).

    Please, do not ignore a lot of intelligent, rational argument. I’m not saying that the Christians are correct, I’m saying that it’s more complex an issue than that.

  13. #13 by texx on February 3, 2010 - 19:29

    I agree. I have never been able to understand how the anti-abortion lobby is pigeonholed as far-right extremists. I am both athiest and anti-abortion, and while I understand some of the pro-choice arguments, I have always felt that the civil liberties take precedence in this situation.

    In short, reasonable people may disagree on when exactly a fetus is a person, but it is not extreme to believe that is at 23, or 20, or 15, or even 8 weeks (i just atteded my wife’s ultrasound at 8 weeks, and it sure looks like a person, or maybe a mermaid) – and if it is a person, it is not extreme to outlaw it’s killing.

    Just because the churchies are extreme about many things does not mean all their views are extreme.

  14. #14 by Stu on February 5, 2010 - 13:27

    Texx – congratulations on your good news.

    I, for one, am not a fan of abortion as a means of contraception and that there becomes a time during gestation when a foetus becomes a child. The exact time is for people way above me to decide.

    However, I am a firm believer in a womans’ right to have full control over her own body. I also think we should look at this from a consequentialist viewpoint. Sometimes babies are born into abject poverty/misery and would suffer much more – and for much longer – than an aborted embryo/foetus.

    Also, with regards to churchies being extreme, women who have been raped are denied an abortion?

  15. #15 by John on February 5, 2010 - 20:01

    Been reading up about this, after spotting it on The Reason Project website earlier this week. This article from Slate is spot on

    http://www.slate.com/id/2243218/pagenum/all/

  16. #16 by London Lulz on February 8, 2010 - 02:37

    Something needs mentioning with regard to abortion (separate to the debate of whether or not to close abortion).

    I agree with the above statement: “I, for one, am not a fan of abortion as a means of contraception and that there becomes a time during gestation when a foetus becomes a child. The exact time is for people way above me to decide.”

    This is where most people are at. At six weeks the fetus’s brain waves can be detected, at three weeks its heart starts beating. Both brain activity and heart activity are considered signs of “life”.

    To me, any end point has to consider both the woman and take into account was is being destroyed during an abortion.

  17. #17 by Charlie on February 8, 2010 - 16:29

    What a great thread bouncing all over the place! I’ve just a few points to make:
    1) PETA are a bunch of nutters! They put out pics of a dog with a fishing hook in its mouth and came up with a campaign to rename fish, water kittens to come down on sports fisherman. Near my home in Colorado, USA they protested a flyfishing tournemant. Ugh! I’m a flyfisherman!
    2) The term anti abortion is really a misnomer. I don’t think anyone is really pro-abortion. Those of us who get labeled as such are really pro an individuals right to make decissions about their own health.
    3) One last point, you boys and girls in the UK sent your prisoners to Australia and the religious wakers to the US! No doubt Australia got the good end of the deal. They now have Dr. Rachi and we have Pat Robertson. I fear GOD is lashing out against us. Maybe we need to pray at more football games :o)

  18. #18 by Gittins on February 8, 2010 - 19:34

    London Lulz :
    Abortion is an interesting issue, and very divisive. However I will say this:
    Anyone who says that it is men exercising authority over women’s bodies is missing the whole point.

    I just think that if men were the ones to get pregnant then abortion would be totally accepted and we wouldn’t be having this debate.

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