My Response to Sally Jenkins’ Defense of the Tebow Ad

Sports writer Sally Jenkins, who describes herself as pro-choice wrote a column defending the Tebow ad and criticizing its critics as "intolerant". I just emailed her my response, and I share it with you.

Sall Jenkins’ column is here.

Here is the message I emailed her:

My message to Sally

I just finished reading your piece on Tim Tebow. Your most
compelling argument was "If the pro-choice stance is so precarious that a story about someone who chose to carry a risky pregnancy to term undermines it, then CBS is not the problem." Also the idea that a 30-second ad (is it only
30 seconds?) isn’t going to convert much of anyone.

I am pro-choice, but have personal conflicts about the push
to stop this ad. I prefer what Planned Parenthood has done, to create their own.

Of course, this ad by Planned Parenthood won’t have the same
distributive advantage to mainstream audiences as the Tebow ad. Not nearly the same advantage. We can take the stand that this is a consequence of whatever constitutional freedoms private corporations have to decide their own
programming. I don’t have to knowledge to contest such constitutional arguments. However, we both know that just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. And it doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for those watching (though after my statement on “what’s the big deal over 30-seconds, we may rightfully question those “consequences”).

I am wondering about some of the aruguments you have made. For example, 

“Famous guys who aren’t embarrassed to practice sexual restraint, and to say it out loud…’Are you saving yourself for marriage?’ Tebow was asked last summer during an SEC media day. ‘Yes, I am,’ he replied. The room fell into a hush, followed by tittering: The best college football player in the country had just announced he was a virgin…That’s how far we’ve come from any kind of sane viewpoint about star athletes and sex. Promiscuity is so the norm that if a stud isn’t shagging everything in sight, we feel faintly ashamed for him.”

I will consider that there is some anti-virgin sentiment, first seen in high school teasing, and perhaps later from such reactions as described above. However, the above argument assumes there is only no-sex-before-marriage or “promiscuity”. What about the majority of us who have unmarried sex?

As a pro-choicer, we probably both support birth control and the sex education to accompany that. And with most of us having unmarried sex we agree this is a good idea. But what I just said was false. What do I mean? Marriage is not birth control nor does it prevent STDs. Those things have to be learned matter what is or isn’t on your ring finger. But we might ask, how does one learn about sex, how to talk about sex, how to talk to your partner about what is right for you and right for me sexually, what risks and pleasures we are thinking about…how do we gain this experience if we never allow ourselves to have sex until marriage? And shouldn’t we learn all this about ourselves and our partner before we commit?

Nothing of what I’ve said contests Tim’s or anyone’s right to choose abstinence before marriage. But having the right to choose something does not make that choice wise, or at least does not make that choice without problems.

I could probably also write about the benefits of waiting till marriage, even if I won’t take that route personally. And we should consider those benefits. I think it would add more to this discussion to know about the sex lives of couples who waited, a how-to guide the same way some other couples tell. However, these benefits and good stories may only be anecdotes. What makes me presume this? Because, like anything else, you can only learn so much about an experience without having it, and you need to know as much about your partner and how you are with your partner before committing your life and bed to him/her. There may be exceptions to this rule. But in general, you need to
have an experience to understand it.

And shouldn’t real education – not just to kids, but to all sexually active people – talk about these realities?

“You know what we really need more of? Famous guys who aren’t embarrassed to practice sexual restraint, and to say it out loud. If we had more of those, women might have fewer abortions. See, the best way to deal with unwanted pregnancy is to not get the sperm in the egg and the egg implanted to begin with, and that is an issue for men, too
— and they should step up to that.”

I might have addressed the above argument in what I’ve said so far. Now I wish to discuss this:

“Tebow himself is an inescapable
fact: Abortion doesn’t just involve serious issues of life, but of potential lives, Heisman trophy winners, scientists, doctors, artists, inventors,
Little Leaguers — who would never come to be if their birth mothers had not wrestled with the stakes and chosen to carry those lives to term. And their stories are every bit as real and valid as the stories preferred by NOW.”

You are right that many fetuses/unborn children grow up to be those things. However, many others grow up to be something more mundane, or even terrible. The question is, if I had an unintended pregnancy (I’m a man, but bear with me) and was deciding what I should do, how much weight should those amazing possibilities have on my decision. In
my case, I’m a graduate student, no salary, still deciding my path. But I’ve gotten great grades so far, a good internship, and some basic ideas for charting myself out. With all this, you might argue that I should have used my
head before getting pregnant. And your argument makes sense. But now I have to make a decision. How much weight should I give the possibility of bearing “Heisman trophy winners, scientists, doctors, artists, inventors, Little Leaguers” or
some equivalent?

The scenario I described is what many women find themselves in. And we can get different complications. Often women who get unwanted pregnancies already have children to care for and of course many of these women are married, which adds more to my earlier assertion that marriage does not equal birth control. And married women with children may
have a greater need to keep their lives in order, especially with the economy, so the desire to end an unexpected pregnancy is not based on whim, but on seeing their circumstances as they are.

Again, all the above women (and their male partners) might be blamed fairly for not taking these circumstances seriously enough to avoid pregnancy. The good thing is that heightened sense of responsibility often comes after a mistake, and those who just avoided an unplanned pregnancy (through either emergency contraception or abortion) are
often more serious about birth control than they’d ever been. Just like in other areas of life, one mistake often triggers the learning process. But they need the ability to bounce back, and emergency contraception and abortion allows this.

Since you are a pro-choicer, I feel I am telling you things you already know. I don’t want to be patronizing,
and please tell me if I have been.

But it comes back to the decision that has to be made. No matter how it got to that point, a decision has to be made. And I wonder again, how much weight should a woman give to the possibility of having their child grow to be one of those heroes? Does having an abortion really mean you are denying the world a hero? Or is that a hypothetical image?

All these questions are to be considered with the fact that the Tim Tebow ad is a case where she chose to continue her pregnancy against doctor’s orders. This adds some questionable things to the idea that a pregnancy ought to be continued in order to bear a hero. Now that pregnancy must go forward whether or not doctors say it’s a good idea.

That this ad itself will alter people’s decisions or views is doubtful. But the ideas expressed in the ad are troublesome for the reasons I have suggested. That doesn’t mean we should stop the ad, though boycotting, protesting, and condemning also count as free speech. Perhaps it is impossible for the Tebows to tell their personal story, freely from the heart, without saying all these things we object to. However, we ought to speak our hearts and minds as well, and note the risks of certain ideas expressed, no matter how subtle or well-intentioned. Ideas do spread and become part of our collection of narratives on how the world does work and should work. It is these thoughts about life and life’s purpose and morality and meaning that come into play when we make such personal, consequential decisions
such as “I’m pregnant. What should I do?”