Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Perhaps the most depressing protest ever?

CBS is taking heat from women's groups for agreeing to run an ad from Focus on the Family featuring Tim Tebow, whose mother rejected her doctors' advice that he be aborted:

“An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year—an event designed to bring Americans together,” said Jemhu Greene, president of the New York-based Women’s Media Center.

This is depressing on several levels:

First, from what I understand, the ad will not advocate any particular legal response to abortion; it simply will celebrate life and the personal choices that make life possible.  If a message like that is too "divisive" to be expressed on a grand cultural stage, then we have a serious problem.  For those who insist that the concept of the common good has become so thin that a meaningful conversation on the subject is impossible, this might be Exhibit A.

Second, the logic underlying an argument that messages encouraging others to "choose life" are "demeaning" makes me want to poke myself in the eye with a sharp object.  It is a message aimed at hearts and minds; it is not (as far as I know) aimed at persuading the state to criminalize abortion (I'm not saying that those messages have no place in the public square, just that those message are understandably more controversial.)  But to insist that a mother telling her story of being blessed by her choice for life is "not being respectful of other people's lives" (according to Terry O'Neill, president of NOW) is to twist the concept of "respect" beyond recognition.

Third, the nature of the protest -- don't taint the sacred ground of the Super Bowl! -- speaks loudly about our society's rush to embrace events that give us a sense of community (and even transcendence), and how silly we sometimes look as a result.  Perhaps at one time those events were religious, but now we're left with the Super Bowl (and maybe American Idol).  As sports columnist Gregg Doyel wrote, “If you’re a sports fan, and I am, that’s the holiest day of the year.  It’s not a day to discuss abortion."

I've opened comments. 


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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When the Dixie Chicks came out against the Iraq War in 2003, and were subsequently yanked from many radio stations, there were claims that this violated their right to free speech. . . there were even congressional hearings on it! While I don't think the D.C. had their right to free speech violated, and I don't think a decision to yank the pro-life ads would violated it either, the fact that many of the people supporting the D.C. want these ads pulled is telling.

Posted by: Stephen Braunlich | Jan 26, 2010 11:15:24 AM

The response that (rightly) made you want to thrust a sharp object in your eye is a great window into one of the reasons why so much of our discourse about abortion is so difficult...and so difficult to understand.

We need to start the Guttmacher Institute's stunning claim that a twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion. There are so many people (the women who had the abortions, their partners, close friends and family members) who are so personally tied to not only the legality but more importantly the moral acceptability of abortion that even the hint that it might be morally problematic comes across as 'demeaning' and 'divisive.' For a woman that has had an abortion, or for her partner or family member who pressured her into it, the deepest aspects of their self-esteem...their very own worth as a person...is under attack. No wonder they lash out.

As important as the facts and arguments are, the key point for pro-lifers, it seems to me, is to try to find a way to talk about the issue in such a way that the dozens of millions of people like this can actually listen to us and not feel demeaned. If this seems like a Herculean task, especially in light of the reactions to such a gentle and positive message you point out, perhaps this gives us new impetus to try to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Not only does it save lives, but it will help win the argument.

Posted by: Charlie | Jan 26, 2010 3:19:33 PM

I think it's sad that a pro-life message is has less of a place during the Super Bowl in the eyes of some women's groups than beer commercials, which historically do a great job at objectifying women.

Posted by: John D | Jan 26, 2010 5:50:12 PM

I'm glad you guys decided to do comments. I had not read this blog in a long time - in part b/c you guys didn't do comments and I didn't like reading all the rhetorical questions that could not be responded to, or the instances where somebody made an opinion but then did not open themselves up to a response - but maybe I'll begin to read more often now that people can put in their two cents.

On this post, I agree with your third point the most. People have a desire to eliminate religion, morality, or values from public forum - government, work, the super bowl - but the replacement is not a situation that is a steril lack of values. The replacement is the promotion of alcohol, promiscuity, or something else. People are happy to say "don't bring your values to the super bowl" - but ignore that the replacement, say alcohol adds, do bring values.

And, to the point that maybe 22% of pregnancies end in abortions, and we musn't offend those people. Fair, point. But, I would be shocked if there have been fewer people who have been harmed by alcohol than those that have been involved with abortions. But, we don't really care about the sensitivities of those harmed by alcohol when we put on the silver bullet add.

Posted by: Michael | Jan 26, 2010 10:03:06 PM

Pro-life commercial = Bad, mean, divisive, judgmental.

Doritos commercial with woman's clothes blowing off in first two seconds of commercial = good, nice, brings people together in laughter, not offensive.

Posted by: johnny b | Jan 26, 2010 10:11:10 PM

Rob: That is not even close to the most depressing protest ever. That honor certainly belongs to the infamous "Captain Crunch" protest at Notre Dame in 1984, when more students rallied in outrage over the removal of Captain Crunch from the dining halls than ever rallied over more worthy social issues like the killing of the Jesuits in El Salvador or the plight of migrant farmworkers. Or abortion, for that matter.

Never discount the fundamental importance of sugar!

Posted by: T.J. Conley | Jan 27, 2010 12:32:46 PM

There is a fascinating YouTube video of comments on this issue from students at the University of Florida; it's available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeDkenEq4dw&feature=player_embedded

Even those who have some sympathy with Tebow find it difficult to admit that choosing life might be somehow better than the alternative--at least generally. The will of the individual ("choice") is really all that matters. I have never seen a clearer illustration of the mindset behind the Dictatorship of Relativism.

Posted by: ron chandonia | Jan 29, 2010 9:45:08 AM

This reminds me of the ads run years ago (in 90s I think, and I think by the DeMoss Foundation) that showed a fetal image or ultrasound and ended with the tagline "Life: what a beautiful choice." I recall many pro-"choice" activists howling at the ads, which struck me in my youthful naivete as odd. The ads did not advocate outlawing abortion. In fact, by saying "what a beautiful CHOICE," the ads were arguably accepting or even endorsing the legal regime of choice, and urging only that individual women exercise that choice in favor of life.

I especially remember discussing those ads with Catholic pro-choice friends who not only took great offense if called pro-abortion rather than pro-choice, but insisted that they were equally entitled to the label pro-life. I remember some who had previously insisted that they could and would take to soapboxes to urge choosing life within the choice regime, but howled when the DeMoss ads did just that. If reminded of their earlier statements about soapboxing, they generally just got angry and sputtered.

It took me some years to learn two things:

The "personally opposed, but" crowd must include some sincere ones, like folks posting here, but many who mouth the words are not so opposed in any sense.

More important, as Charlie noted above, is that at least some of the stronger reactions may have indicated life experiences involving abortion, whether they'd had one or had someone close to them do so.

Thus, Charlie is right that we need to find ways to speak with the assumption that someone in our audience is in those shoes, for several reasons. Christian forgiveness alone calls for a charitable spirit in principle, and practically, we cannot build a prolife consensus if we write off everyone who had ever aborted, and many close to them.

Finally, I think, sadly, that there are those on the other side who understand precisely that, and who know darn well that "safe, legal, and rare" might shrink their constituency enough to imperil "legal." Therefore, at least some of them do want to keep numbers up, and I think that is part of the motivation (for some) for fighting so bitterly to entrench abortion in the health care reform legislation. I know that many find that accusation to be out of bounds, but if we accept that tobacco companies and everyone else need to get each new generation into their customer base, even if it involves harm, why should we expect less of a megacorp like Planned Parenthood?

So ratcheting down the numbers will have to happen BEFORE any serious legal change is possible, and that means finding a way to urge "choose life" respctfully, finding a way to welcome those who have aborted without condemnation, and fighting the funding issues and other "expansion agenda" items as the core issues they are, and not as some ancillary part of the debate.

Posted by: recalling 90s ads | Jan 29, 2010 6:20:23 PM

I think this protest illustrates that even the most benign, positive, sympathetic, disarming, warm ad will be characterized as bitterly hateful and linked to vigilante murder (by ideologues and by the media reporting it) if the ad even slightly suggests that there is inherent value in a human life with abortion in the background. In fact, the label of hate is becoming more likely to be hurled against warm and loving efforts than to others (this ad, pregnancy centers), precisely because they are effective in changing hearts. Above, Charlie suggests that pro-lifers need to find a way to convey their message in this loving manner, and I agree. But I think the objective content of this ad, and the vitriol against it, proves that the ad succeeded, rather than proving that we need to keep trying. Success in loving effectiveness won't be measured by the other side's inability to protest--it will be measured by the increasing ridiculousness of their protests.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 1, 2010 11:28:51 AM

Matt Bowman is right that some will attack any ad affirming prenatal life, no matter how benign, if abortion even lurks in the background.

I think the best example of that, even more so than "choose life" messages, is the inconsistent approach that some pro-choicers adopt in discussing plain old prenatal care. If no one has their abortion "antenna" up, people off all stripes will naturally use "baby" and "mother" language in discussing an expectant "mother's" need to, say, quit smoking and drinking, for the health of the "baby." But sometimes, mid-conversation, they'll stop and say "fetus" and "pregnant woman," lest an innocent conversation give succor to those evil "anti-choice" forces.

So I suggest that we run as many commercials as we can that don't even suggest "choose life," but only encourage coming in to get free prenatal vitamins to take care of your baby. When even THAT provokes howls from the usual suspects, the undecided will see from their shrillness who the "extremists" are.

Posted by: prenatal care fan | Feb 1, 2010 1:03:53 PM