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, February 2, 2010

Is the Tebow ad dangerous?

As I've stated before, I think it's great that there will be an ad during the Super Bowl celebrating life, and I thank Tim Tebow and his mom for having the courage to step up on an issue like this.  To be honest, though, I wish that the ad featured a single mom who raised her child in a poor neighborhood, and watched her child struggle to find steady work as an adult, or parents who want to express their love and thanksgiving for their child with special needs.  Choosing life is its own blessing; the blessing is not that you'll receive a world-conquering hero in return.  I know that the Tebows would be celebrating life regardless of the Heisman Trophy, but I think the life-affirming message is even more powerful when life is celebrated in circumstances where the culture is prepared to see only hardship and regret.

The other wrinkle is that Pam Tebow ignored her doctor's advice about her health.  This makes the message a bit more complicated, it seems.  William Saletan writes:

Pam's story certainly is moving. But as a guide to making abortion decisions, it's misleading. Doctors are right to worry about continuing pregnancies like hers. Placental abruption has killed thousands of women and fetuses. No doubt some of these women trusted in God and said no to abortion, as she did. But they didn't end up with Heisman-winning sons. They ended up dead. . . .

On Sunday, we won't see all the women who chose life and found death. We'll just see the Tebows, because they're alive and happy to talk about it. In the business world, this is known as survivor bias: Failed mutual funds disappear, leaving behind the successful ones, which creates the illusion that mutual funds tend to beat market averages. In the Tebows' case, the survivor bias is literal. If you're diagnosed with placental abruption, you have the right to choose life. But don't be so sure that life is what you'll get.


If Pam Tebow's abruption had taken a different turn, her son would be just another perinatal mortality statistic, and she might be just another maternal mortality statistic. And you would know nothing of her story, just as you know nothing of the women who have died carrying pregnancies like hers.



Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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"The other wrinkle is that Pam Tebow ignored her doctor's advice about her health."


I am not sure I would want to put it that way. Pam Tebow made an informed decision based on what the doctors told her, taking her faith into account. She was willing to risk her life for that of her son, so that he might be brought into the world. If she had an abortion, then her son would be just another statistic added to the abortion rolls in the United States.

Let me ask, if a commercial were aired celebrating a man who saved another from drowning, even though the rescuer could not swim, would Saletan then write and say that such a commercial was dangerous, as it would almost certainly encourage stupid lifesaving attempts, and that the next man who tried that would be a statistic?

How muddled moral thinking seems to become when abortion is involved!

I would say that this falls under the example of John 15:13 - "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 2, 2010 11:03:44 AM

When the New York Times disagrees with the naysayers, it's time for them to move on.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 2, 2010 11:03:55 AM

Excellent point, Jonathan, particularly as applied to the cultural message. But how about as applied to our legal regulation of abortion? Let me reframe it this way: Why shouldn't NARAL take your analogy and say, "What a great ad celebrating Pam Tebow's choice! Of course we would never support a law requiring that a man who can't swim must jump into a lake to save someone who is drowning. We should remember Pam Tebow's example and support the right to choose whether or not to jump into that lake!" (I know we're just talking about a subset of abortions here.)

Posted by: rob vischer | Feb 2, 2010 11:18:12 AM

Rob that's a good question, but I think that response would be wholly unsatisfying to NARAL. They oppose this ad because it is inspirational, in the same way that St. Gianna is inspirational (which is what is missing from Saletan's view, among other things). Ultimately, there is an inconsistency between people adopting an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards nascent human life, and calling its destruction just a matter of choice. NARAL knows that. And frankly, many leaders of the movement do not in the long run believe in total freedom of choice to have babies, especially potentially disabled babies of complicated pregnancies.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Feb 2, 2010 11:35:58 AM

I'll respond to Lisa's post here. As I've said repeatedly, I think that the Super Bowl ad is wonderful, and I applaud the Tebows for doing it. I assume that it's intended to be a conversation-starter, though, and I don't think engaging in that conversation is "nitpicking." There are many lines of criticism directed toward the ad that are mean-spirited and/or opposed to the very notion that life is a value worth celebrating on a big platform. Two other strands that I've seen, though, should be engaged by those of us who support the ad and the message it represents: 1) it's easy for Tim Tebow's mom to celebrate her choice given how her son turned out; and 2) the circumstances in which Pam Tebow made her choice provide strong support for the legal recognition of her right to make that choice.

Posted by: rob vischer | Feb 2, 2010 12:05:47 PM

"What a great ad celebrating Pam Tebow's choice! Of course we would never support a law requiring that a man who can't swim must jump into a lake to save someone who is drowning. We should remember Pam Tebow's example and support the right to choose whether or not to jump into that lake!"

They could take that stance (and, given their current reaction, it would be an improvement). But the hypothetical was aimed more at Saletan than at NARAL. NARAL would go farther - NARAL would say that the decision whether or not to save someone's life who is drowning should be left up to the potential rescuer, taking into account:

1. Whether the rescuer can swim sufficiently to save the drowning individual and not endanger him / herself in the process unduly;
2. Whether the drowning human will have enough money to live the life the rescuer thinks is acceptable;
3. Whether the rescuer will be amply rewarded for saving the drowning human;
4. Whether the drowning human is a "person" worth saving (not handicapped, mentally or physically); etc.

Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 2, 2010 12:59:00 PM

And for another view: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/01/AR2010020102067.html?hpid=artslot

Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 2, 2010 3:44:39 PM


As to (2) above, the most that could then be said regarding the ad's implicit support for a right to choose to have an abortion would be to protect that right when the mother's life is *actually* in danger. That's a long way (of course) from current abortion law.

As to (1) I have trouble believing the critique is meant in good faith. Suppose someone showed an inspirational ad where a mother and her 20-year old Downs' child were celebrated. Or an ad where someone's life had been much more difficult than Tebow's. (Though SEC linebackers are very fast...) I have no doubt - and maybe this just marks me as a crusty cynic - that then we would be treated to "concerns" and "worries" that such celebrations demeaned or made light of the fact that many women choose to have an abortion in those circumstances, often with a great deal of anguish.

The truth is, it seems to me, that the Tebow ad (from what I understand, since we haven't seen it) shows us what we lose through abortions, precious human beings. As a strategy for persuading especially middle-America, it seems spot-on: they are uncomfortable with abortion, but want it legal so they can have "options." Tebow illuminates those options without a lot of obvious finger-pointing.

Posted by: Bryan M | Feb 2, 2010 3:47:18 PM

Oh, I should note, Rob, that when I'm talking about "good faith" I mean those who object to Tebow's ad, not your query. Sorry to be unclear on that.

Posted by: Bryan M | Feb 2, 2010 3:48:06 PM