As you know, Tim Tebow — Florida Gators quarterback and the 2010 version of Eric Crouch — is going to star in a Super Bowl ad with his mom, in support of Focus on the Family. In the ad, Tebow and his mother, Pam, will evidently tell the tale of how Pam, pregnant with Tim and doing missionary work in the Philippines — fell ill, and how doctors in the Philippines urged her to have an abortion to save her life. She refused, and now America has had Tim Tebow inflicted on us, thus making the ultimate case for why abortion is a good thing. Kidding! Of course, it’s to argue that if only abortion was illegal, all of us would have kids like Tim Tebow.
Now, there are many directions one could go with this news. One could note that the United Church of Christ was not allowed to run an ad during the Super Bowl because one of its arguments — that homosexuals are human — was “too controversial.” One could note that anti-Bush ads were routinely rejected as “too political.” One could note the fact that the founder of Focus on the Family, James Dobson, has advocated that men shower with young boys to show off their penises. (I am not making this up.)
But the direction I choose to go is different. You see, while Pam Tebow may have been advised by doctors to seek an abortion, she’s leaving a very big background piece unstated: abortion is illegal in the Philippines.
“Well,” you say, “this is different. I mean, her life was in jeopardy, so obviously, that was legal.” Au contraire. The Philippine criminal code makes no exception for life or health of the mother. Had Pam Tebow had an abortion, she could have been jailed, as could her physician and anyone else who assisted her.
Now, that doesn’t mean Pam Tebow is lying. There are about 470,000 abortions performed annually in the Philippines, and about 80,000 women hospitalized for complications of abortion. 12 percent of all maternal deaths in 2000 were due to unsafe abortons, of course, because abortion is illegal — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. As anyone with a rudimentary understanding of abortion policy knows, outlawing abortion doesn’t stop abortion. It just makes it much less safe.
But this is an important part of the story that Pam and Tim Tebow are ignoring. Because the organization they’re supporting — Focus on the Family — is virulently anti-abortion, and supports making it illegal. But by Pam Tebow’s own admission, outlawing abortion didn’t stop her Filipino physician from recommending it. She had a choice – but one that was more dangerous than it had to be, one that could have had legal repercussions for her and her family.
Understand, I don’t begrudge Pam Tebow if she would have made that choice freely. The whole point of pro-choice is that it places the ultimate decision to continue or abort a pregnancy with the woman who is pregnant. Pam Tebow was willing to risk her life to bring her son into the world. That was her choice.
But doubtless, there are Filipinas who even today are in the same grave position Pam Tebow was in, who would like to make their own informed choice, but who are not American and lack the connections and relative wealth Tebow had. Some may choose to carry to term. Some may choose an abortion. But all of them deserve to make that choice based on the dictates of their own consciences, without fear of jail or death.
Ultimately, Pam and Tim Tebow want to limit the right of women to decide what happens in their own bodies. And to do so, they’re willing to fudge the truth about the circumstances surrounding her own choice — one that was not completely free, one that was not completely safe, one that she could not make based solely on her own conscience. She wants to argue that she had a choice when, frankly, she did not. I do believe the Bible has something to say about bearing false witness. But that, I suppose, isn’t important when you’ve got an anti-choice message to share.