What Does Football Have to Do With Abortion Again?

The common denominator in ads like Pam Tebow's is that the woman at the center is being celebrated for her bravery in making a specific choice---and that if she didn't have the right to choose, then she wouldn't be a hero at all.

Round two of asking the question "What
does abortion have to do with football?"
In this case, Florida Gators
quarterback Tim Tebow is trying to marry the hyper-masculine world of football
with the hyper-patriarchal belief that women should not have a basic right to
control their own fertility. Focus on the Family has dumped millions
of dollars
into an ad to play during the Superbowl (which CBS has agreed to air despite its own "anti-advocacy policy) that tells the story of
how Tebow’s anti-abortion mother Pam Tebow refused to abort a problem
pregnancy, and risked her life to give birth to a boy that would go on to win
the Heisman trophy.

There are many reasons to object to this ad. For those of us
who don’t find the existence of the Heisman trophy, much less any particular
winner, a compelling enough reason to give up our basic human rights, the
implicit anti-choice argument of such an ad is hard to swallow. For those of us
married to logic, the fact that there are billions of former fetuses walking
around without a Heisman trophy seems to undermine the implicit promises made
to women in the ad. For those of us who are already anxious about the
hyper-masculine culture of football, tying ads arguing against women’s basic
human rights to the sport is an alarming display of open worship of male
dominance. For those of us who just like to watch football, spoiling the game
by tying arrogant anti-woman attitudes to it is insulting.

But what I find interesting is that while most people who
watch this ad will understand that it’s meant to be an argument against a
woman’s right to abortion, in fact what I’m seeing is even more evidence that
the right to choose is critical to women’s dignity and equality.  I’m
far from the first person to point out
that the religious right has fallen
into the habit of celebrating women who made the choice they approve of, and by
accident, this puts them in the position of celebrating choice. But it really
goes deeper than that. This strategy of celebrating women who have babies when
others might not really points out how the dignity of all women—including
anti-abortion women—requires the right to choose.

Pam Tebow is being celebrated as a maternal hero right after
and Bristol Palin got a cover for In Touch magazine
celebrating their
happiness at making a choice that the pro-choice movement fully supports, which
is the right to choose to give birth. The common denominator in all these
stories is that the woman at the center is being celebrated for her bravery in
making a specific choice—and that if she didn’t have the right to choose,
then she wouldn’t be a hero at all.

Under an anti-choice regime, women are not
regarded as moral actors who can do things like make choices that can be
evaluated by outsiders according to their own moral compass. If these women
weren’t given the right to choose, they would be reduced to walking uteruses,
whose feelings and choices are essentially irrelevant, since they, like all
women, make babies with pretty much no say in the matter.  But because these women live in a society that
gives them a right to choose, they are being treated like moral actors—like
real people, even!

Not that I think the religious right particularly desires to
uphold women as moral actors who make choices. Obviously, the hope behind all
these ads and covers is to take that right away and return to a situation where
the state assumes women aren’t capable of making their own choices. These ads
are about putting a positive spin on a misogynist message. "Look!" the ads and
magazine covers say, "We don’t hate women. We celebrate them as heroes!" But of
course, they only do that because they have to, because the existence of
abortion rights has put them in this situation. Without abortion rights, even
disingenuous celebrations of women’s autonomy will dry right up.

I’m sure someone could disagree with this assessment by
pointing out that the main message of the Tebow ad and the Palin cover is that
because these women are happy with choice A, then all women should be happy
with that choice, and that therefore other choices should be eliminated. (This
is especially dangerous when considering that Pam Tebow had an often fatal
condition, and that she may be encouraging other women to die in the vain hope
of producing a football star.)

But if you think about it for a minute, the message falls
apart. To argue that because woman A is happy with choice A, woman B should be
happy with choice A is to say that all women are exactly alike.  "All women are alike" is a standard sexist
assumption, and so people will buy into it.  But by the measurement of their own
arguments, you can see they don’t believe this—they’re admitting that
different women make different choices, and that therefore different women are,
gosh darnit (like Sarah Palin would say), different. And so maybe the same
exact choice is not right, since different people have different needs and

The anti-choice argument is that women who make choice B
might be different, but that’s because they’ve strayed from their one true
path. The implication is that Pam Tebow and the Palins are on that path. But
what’s the evidence to say that Tebow and the Palins have it all figured out,
and that women who have abortions don’t? The Heisman trophy isn’t enough,
because most of us know at least one person (our mother) who has chosen to give
birth and didn’t get a Heisman trophy winner. Most of us know hundreds and
possibly thousands of such women.  And to
say that Sarah Palin made a choice that worked out for her is to invite someone
to ask about the choices of all the billions of women who aren’t Sarah Palin. I
can’t wear her clothes or sleep in her bed, so why do you think her exact
choice is the right one for me? If you can trust Sarah Palin with a choice, why
can’t you trust me?

The standard sexist strategy throughout history has been to
hide women from the public eye and force women to adhere to a single standard,
to prevent these threatening questions from rising to the surface. But because
of feminism, the right wing has to at least pay lip service to the idea that
women are a diverse group and are also moral actors. Since they admit that women are
human beings, we should seize the moment and point out that therefore women
deserve freedom and dignity.

Like people capable of making choices.