If you are among the record numbers of people who tuned in to yesterday's Super Bowl, then you had the chance to see the controversial Focus on the Family ad starring Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam. And if the ad shocked you at all, it was probably due to how tame it turned out to be.
As you can see, though this spot garnered quite a bit of attention from feminist, pro-choice organizations (this one included), the word abortion is never mentioned – it is almost the opposite of controversial. Had the hype not happened, this 32-second snoozefest would have most likely elicited little more than a trip to the kitchen to get more nachos. One has to wonder then, was that the point?
By publicizing in advance that this ad was going to air during one of the most watched events of the year, and waiting for pro-choice advocates to go bonkers about it, Focus on the Family has painted themselves as the reasonable ones in this picture. They very well might be hanging out in their offices this morning, laughing about how they got everyone worked up over a cutesy ad that is so vague it could be for anything. "What's the big deal?" (One could also ask why they chose to spend three million dollars to send a message that was so diluted, but if it made progressive groups look radical then it was probably mission accomplished.)
Of course, this commercial, cute and innocuous as it may be, was paid for by Focus on the Family, and their website is decidedly less neutral. As Latoya points out over at Jezebel this morning, the extended video doesn't mince words when it comes to abortion the way the CBS version did. Pam Tebow tells women that they have "a choice": to keep their babies. And Bob Tebow (Tim's father) is even more straightforward: "God loves you and your baby. There are lots of people that will help you. Don't kill your baby."
Making the abortion debate about tiny cute babies is a tired tactic that completely misses the point. If a woman chooses to carry her fetus to term she is making a choice that will affect her and those around her long after that baby grows up – and that choice is hers to make. Not Focus on the Family's, not Planned Parenthood's, not even the Tebow family's, no matter how happy and friendly they act.
The content of the Focus on the Family website is no real surprise, attempting to frighten women and men out of having abortions at just about every opportunity. They have never pretended to be a neutral (or even rational) organization, and as they are privately funded they have every right not to be. Of course, prior to this year, issues-based groups were not allowed to advertise during the Super Bowl, which is one of the reasons their ad was given so much media attention before it even aired.
What is a surprise (although in hindsight it shouldn't have been) is how tame the Super Bowl spot actually turned out to be. It really could have been for just about anything wholesome – soup, hot cocoa, fuzzy socks – with very little editing. Was this an attempt to make pro-choice groups look hypersensitive and somewhat ridiculous? Was it successful? If it was, then it has only really succeeded in clouding the issue.