Effect Measure

Abortion and the world that is

When CBS-TV decided to run an anti-abortion ad during the Superbowl there was a lot of talk about the propriety of airing highly polarizing advocacy advertising in such a highly visible media slot. There has been less talk about the content of the ad beyond the obvious fact it was making an implied argument against abortion. Since I wrote a pro abortion post yesterday I was thinking about the issue and thought I’d revisit the ad from a different point of view, the weird (but common) anti-abortion counterfactual argument.

First a brief summary of the ad. Tim Tebow is a talented college football player who won the Heisman trophy. He is also an in-your-face militant evangelical Christian. The ad was made by the far right anti-abortion group, Focus on the Family:

He was the first sophomore in history to win a Heisman trophy. He was the first college football player both to rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season. Last year, he led his college team, the Florida Gators, to their second national championship in three years. At 6 feet 3 inches and 245 pounds, Tim Tebow may go down in history as the greatest college football player who ever lived.

And to think none of that would have happened if not for a decision his mother made nearly 23 years ago.

That is the message of a controversial new ad starring Tebow and his mother, Pam. Paid for by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, the ad tells the story of Bob and Pam Tebow, who was pregnant with their fifth child when the couple travelled to the Philippines on a missionary trip.

While there, Pam contracted amoebic dysentery and the medicines used for her recovery threatened her unborn fetus. Doctors advised her to abort the fetus. Pam ignored their advice and gave birth on Aug. 14, 1987, to a baby boy. That boy was Tim Tebow. (Brinda Adhikari, ABC News)

Reading this it all seems rather logical and somewhat extraordinary. We immediately accept that if Ms. Tebow had aborted her pregnancy because of the risk of a major congenital malformation, then Tim Tebow wouldn’t have grown to be a talented football player who thinks he knows what’s right for other people. It is a classic counterfactual. It says that if the world had been completely different than it actually was, then the way things would have turned out would also be different, certainly for Tim Tebow, who wouldn’t exist in that alternate universe.

Tim Tebow decided to make this very personal, so let me do the same. My parents were rarely apart, but sometime in 1941 my father journeyed to a medical meeting. I think it may have been in Cincinnati. My brother and sister were 9 and 11 at the time. He was only gone a couple of days but when he returned my mother was very happy to see him. Nine months later I was born. Now if my father had not gone to that medical meeting, I wouldn’t exist. Life is full of things like that. Let me make it sharper. If he had stopped to read the paper after dinner, the specific little swimmer that got there first might not have been one with the Y chromosome but one with an X chromosome. Then there would have been no little boy baby born that later grew up to be me. I wouldn’t exist. Indeed, that kind of contingency is inherent in the reproductive process. If Mr. and Ms. Tebow had conceived him in a different position (OK, I know they were missionaries but this is a hypothetical), maybe there would not have been any little Tim at all or maybe little Tim would be little Tessa and not a Heisman trophy winner.

Or maybe it would have been a different little Tim, one with enough inborn ability for seeing the world through another’s eyes that he wouldn’t be such a self-righteous prig who thinks he knows what’s best for people whose lives he doesn’t know and can’t imagine.

Comments

  1. #1 caia
    April 15, 2010

    Well put. And indeed, perhaps one day this Tim will become that Tim.

    Another twist: from my understanding, abortion was illegal in the Philippines at the time, so the ad may not just be a contrafactual, but a fiction.

    And finally: say she chose. Good for her! That’s what pro-choice means.

  2. #2 Dr Denise
    April 15, 2010

    A logical extension for many of us (born before Roe V Wade as well) is that if it weren’t FOR abortion we would not exist.

  3. #3 gl
    April 15, 2010

    “Now if my father had not gone to that medical meeting, I wouldn’t exist”.

    And if your father’s plane had crashed on the way home, you wouldn’t exist.

    The difference, of course, is Tim Tebow was a “bunch of cells” in his mother’s womb at the time of the decision, whereas you were just a hypothetical.

    And calling Tim Tebow a “in-your-face militant evangelical Christian”. Made me laugh. But probably not the way you intended.

  4. #4 revere
    April 15, 2010

    gl: But what later became me still existed as an egg and a sperm, didn’t it? As for the “in your face” comment, it’s based on his public statements and behavior like this:
    http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2010/03/23/tebows-pre-wonderlic-prayer-request-falls-flat/

  5. #5 momkat
    April 15, 2010

    No, Tim is an “ON-your-face” evangelical Christian, what with all the Bible verse citations on his face during games. Appallingly blatant public piety if you ask me. Isn’t there a Bible verse that covers that as well?

  6. #6 gl
    April 15, 2010

    I’d say Tebow’s actions in your linked article – though annoying to some – pale in comparison to lots of other in-your-face actions by all sorts of groups out there (on both sides) – with people who are demanding responses, not requesting, as Tebow did in the article linked. I just think your term is inaccurate. If he is an “in-your-face militant”, what do you call the guy who killed the abortion doctor? (who’s actions, i’m sure we both agree, should be condemned). There’s a big difference between Tim Tebow and that guy, but your term doesn’t leave much room.

    As for the egg/sperm thing: before they meet, it requires an action on our part for them to connect. They don’t get together on their own. Once they’ve connected, it requires an action on our part to stop the process. That’s the difference.

  7. #7 Nomen Nescio
    April 15, 2010

    If he [Tebow] is an “in-your-face militant”, what do you call the guy who killed the abortion doctor?

    (which guy? that crime has been committed more than once.)
    how about calling him a murderer and a terrorist? “in-your-face militant” is not, after all, the worst thing a person could possibly ever be called.

  8. #8 Granny Sue
    April 15, 2010

    gl@6: It doesn’t always require action on our part, not all fertilized eggs attach to the uterus.

  9. #9 Mark
    April 15, 2010

    Don’t use right-wing terms such as “Pro abortion”, it only lends credibility to those that would deny reproductive choice. Instead try “Since I wrote a pro-choice post yesterday…”

  10. #10 K
    April 15, 2010

    I just wish the anti abortion folks would care about all the fetuses destroyed in our wars. If the fetus is so precious, no bombing of any location that might possibly have pregnant women should occur.

    I also wish they would look to see what our using of Depleted Uranium in Iraq and Afganistan is doing to fetuses.

    http://www.google.com/images?um=1&hl=en&tbo=1&rlz=1B3GPCK_enUS317US318&tbs=isch:1&aq=f&aqi=&oq=&gs_rfai=&q=Depleted%20Uranium%20babies

    Or they could just care about the babies after they are born and encourage health care for ALL children.

    If they care about all fetuses and all fetuses after they become children fine. But by and large they don’t and this issue is a political one that is used by people who want power and found an issue that has the potential for keying into strong emotions (babies and motherhood). They use it shamelessly to promote themselves and their agenda. The followers may think that they genuinely care about babies (well babies in their own country until they are born) but the leaders only care about themselves.

    Too bad the emotions the leaders key into couldn’t first be put into promoting good food and health care for the fetuses that have emerged from the womb and are now children. A few do… but many just make signs and shout (and support the leaders)

  11. #11 revere
    April 15, 2010

    MarK: I wrote “pro-abortion” deliberately. Pro Choice isn’t specific enough. We are talking about something specific: keeping abortions legal. Let’s stop using code words here. It’s keeping abortions legal versus making having an abortion a crime. I’m not talking about the right to choose to carry a concealed weapon (which I oppose, BTW) but the ability to have an abortion. We are talking about making abortion legal and available. Abortion. I want it to be available for many reasons, not the least of which is that I saw what it was like when it was illegal. I’m OK with anyone who wants to frame this abstractly as a “right to choose” but it’s not abstract for me but very concrete and it has to do with being able to have a legal abortion.

  12. #12 gl
    April 15, 2010

    You both bring up an interesting point. There is a difference between anti-abortion and pro-life. I would suggest (open to debate) that:

    Anti-abortion indicates their focus is solely on the issue of abortion, and they are willing to commit an evil (killing a doctor) to prevent more evil.

    Pro-life, on the other hand, values all life, and would value the abortion doctor’s life as much as any other life (and all those examples K mentions above).

    Pro abortion (and here Revere will either disagree or change his previous comment, or propose a different definition) would apply to those who criticize people like Tim Tebow’s mother for making her choice.

    Pro choice people happily accept both those who choose abortion and those who choose life. To each his own.

  13. #13 Cate
    April 15, 2010

    Evangelical and Catholic Christians have a higher abortion rate than those of us who have more tolerant religious views. The ‘pro-life’ people fervently believe that they are saving us, because they are too dim-witted to question their leaders. Their leaders know the truth — they are furious that they cannot control their own women.

    Those who claim they are ‘pro-life’ generally are not: they believe in theological retribution theory: women dying in childbirth SHOULD die, because they must have done something bad to be punished like this. The ‘pro-life’ often want criminals to be executed. They gleefully want wars to occur, praising war as god’s will.

    But you really get to know the ugly cold heart of a ‘pro-lifer’ if you talk to them about rape: Women who are raped deserve every awful thing that could possibly happen to them, especially — actually hopefully — dying in childbirth of the rape-conceived pregnancy. Their belief: raped women asked for it, put themselves into a situation just to get raped because they wanted to be raped.

    Pro-lifers are demented by their theological retribution theory. And led by people with a very different agenda than the one they admit.

  14. #14 K
    April 15, 2010

    Besides pro-abortion we need to be proactive on birth control of all types. 70 million humans are added to a finite world with finite resources every year. This cannot go on. We can try to stop it now or we will be stopped by war, famine or disease. It should be clear to all that we are not going to colonize the moon or Mars or anywhere else. This is it. Planet Earth. Finite.

    We need abortion, but more than that we need free birth control and a serious discussion about the size of the human population on Earth. See the World Population Clock. http://math.berkeley.edu/~galen/popclk.html We have stretched the planet’s resources, oil, water, clean air, soil to the limit. We cannot keep adding humans and expect that there will be plenty for all….

  15. #15 revere
    April 15, 2010

    gl: Besides all the contradictions of the allegedly pro-life faction noted by Cate, you also want to arrogate to yourself a religiously inspired notion of “life.” Animals and plants are alive, as are cancer cells and limbs and bacteria. We don’t celebrate them or save them. We intentionally kill them for our benefit. There are those whose religious views prohibit even that and my hat’s off to them. I don’t want them telling me that amputations should be illegal or I can’t eat animals or plants if they didn’t die naturally first. You reserve a special place for humans because of your notion of soul or whatever. For me, a blastocyst is just a hunk of tissue. Maybe you have empathy for a blastocyst but my imagination isn’t sufficiently well developed that I can think what it feels like to be one. As for a fetus, I think it’s easier to think of myself as adult steer but I eat steak. It’s not exactly a lack of empathy in that case but a weak will. I was actually a vegetarian for awhile because I was so repelled by the idea of slaughtering animals. I can understand an animal suffering more than I can a fetus or a blastocyst, neither of which I consider capable of being human in terms that make sense to me, whatever the Archbishop might say. He — and it is most assuredly a he — knows nothing of parenthood or young women in difficult circumstances or what it’s like to live in the real world. But he (whoever it is, it is a he) has no problem telling me and others what to do. I have no respect for that. Not to mention his lack of respect for abused children.

  16. #16 sciencenotes
    April 15, 2010

    I don’t like “pro-abortion” because it encourages the anti-choice canard that pro-choice people try to talk women into having abortions.

    For a look at the abortion situation before birth control and before legalization, here’s an online copy of a memoir from 1939: “Confessions of an Abortionist: Intimate Sidelights on the Secret Human, Sorrow, Drama and Tragedy in the Experience of a Doctor Whose Profession It Is To Perform Illegal Operations.”

    Abortion was originally made illegal because it was so dangerous for the women.

  17. #17 gl
    April 15, 2010

    I guess I’m surprised you cited Cate. She paints with a rather broad brush – I do not know any pro-life people who act or think as she claims. And I would guess I know more than her since I am pro-life. But there doesn’t seem much point in engaging in that discussion.

    As to the rest – here is what I don’t get:

    Of course you don’t believe what we believe regarding the soul and so forth, but you’re are obviously informed of the arguments. Wouldn’t we be a bit inconsistent if we really believe the fetus was a human life, but we didn’t act that way? If it was legal, for example, to kill people with Down’s syndrome, or if it was legal to kill slaves back in the 1700′s, wouldn’t you speak up saying this was wrong? Even if people didn’t respect you for that. (and I mean speak up, not commit crimes)

    It’s not like we’re telling people how to decorate their house. Or how many children it is acceptable to have. In which case we should keep quiet.

    From our point of view this is human life we are discussing.

    I just don’t understand why you expect us to be inconsistent.

  18. #18 revere
    April 15, 2010

    sciencenotes: Everything is a trade-off. There are good reasons to prefer pro-choice and eschew pro-abortion. But I think there are also good reasons to speak plainly and honestly. I am in favor of legal abortion. Perhaps pro legal abortion would be better than pro abortion and I will modify accordingly. Pro choice is not sufficient in my view because it doesn’t specify what is being chosen. By preferring not mentioning abortion we contribute to the idea that it is the medical procedure whose name we dare not speak. That’s the other side of the argument. I want abortion to be legal. Abortion. Legal.

  19. #19 gl
    April 15, 2010

    And I would guess I know more than her

    should be amended to

    And I would guess I know more pro-life people than her

  20. #20 Granny Sue
    April 15, 2010

    gl@17
    we really believe the fetus is …

    That’s pretty much the problem. You are suggesting the fertilized egg has rights above and beyond the human woman host. And its based on your belief, not on the law or fact. You are welcome to your beliefs but not to force them on others.

    gl, can you imagine yourself opening your own womb to the millions of fertilized eggs without a home? Think about it because you are saying everyone one of them have higher legal rights than you.

  21. #21 gl
    April 15, 2010

    gs – we are not forcing anyone. We are speaking our opinion (and if anyone is going beyond that and committing a crime – you and I both agree they should be arrested.

    Abortion was not legal before – weren’t the pro-choice people forcing their opinion on us then?

    The global warming crowd, as one example, does it all the time. It’s politics. People speak their minds. Laws are based on beliefs, and they are changed by the beliefs of those who create them.

  22. #22 Granny Sue
    April 15, 2010

    gl@21

    Pro legal abortion people aren’t forcing anyone to have an abortion. They are defending women’s rights and solving the problems of illegal abortion.

    I don’t think you shouldn’t state your opinion, only trying to show how that opinion would play out if it were made into law. I really believe people can make their own decisions and think you should have as many children as you want.

  23. #23 revere
    April 15, 2010

    gl: So we have established that you are acting in conscience on your religious views. That’s the problem. They are your religious views. Keep them. Don’t ask me to abide by them. If you think working on the sabbath is evil, don’t work on the sabbath. Don’t make it illegal for me to work on the sabbath. If you think the sexual act is only for procreation, then don’t use birth control. Don’t prevent me from using birth control or anyone else from using it except you and your partner. If you think a blastocyst has a soul, then don’t terminate a pregnancy at any stage. But don’t prevent some other woman from terminating a pregnancy. If you think eating animal protein is evil, then don’t eat animal protein. Don’t make it illegal for someone else to eat animal protein. If you think it’s bad to smoke pot, then don’t smoke it. Making it illegal to smoke pot (and we do) is stupid. It’s the law and creates all sorts of problems. Whatever you think. And so did illegal abortions. I don’t know how old you are or know what the world for many women was like before Roe but it wasn’t pretty.

  24. #24 mk
    April 15, 2010

    From gl… “the global warming crowd,”…. what a surprise. You’re a denialist as well. Heh.

  25. #25 gl
    April 15, 2010

    revere / Granny Sue –

    Do you support taxpayer funded abortion?

  26. #26 bob koepp
    April 15, 2010

    gl – I’m pretty sure I know where you’re headed with your 9:49 comment/question; toward exempting those who have sincere moral objections to abortion from providing material support. I’m actually willing to go down that path some distance — but it’s a narrow path. First, as suggested in the previous strand of this thread, I’d say that any conscience-based exemption must not extend to therapeutic or medically indicated abortions. Anything less would violate the medical profession’s fundamental obligation to serve the health of patients. And then, even though I view it as a matter of principle to respect your freedom of conscience, I’ll fight tooth and nail against any effort to restrict the freedoms of others.

  27. #27 Nomen Nescio
    April 15, 2010

    Do you support taxpayer funded abortion?

    there’s no way not to.

    well, no realistic way. we could try a third-world healthcare system,of the sort where noone gets any healthcare of any sort (to include ambulance rides) unless cash is paid up front. but that’d start a revolution inside a year if it were put into effect in any first-world country.

  28. #28 Kathryn
    April 15, 2010

    gl-
    At this moment in the United States it is legal to obtain an abortion. This in no way says we must have one, only that neither of us will be breaking the law IF we have one. To return to the pre-Roe V Wade days of unregulated butchery (for all parties involved) is a regression unconscionable for me as a woman and a mother. My children are the pulse of my heart, but I was the sole decider as to whether they were to be born. MY choice of partner, MY choice of marriage or not, MY choice to use contraception or not, MY choice to carry them or not. Every other woman in this country deserves the same choice. Those who whittle away at that right of self-determination take away the voice of all women with every little difficulty they impose, and I resent it bitterly.

  29. #29 MS3
    April 16, 2010

    “revere / Granny Sue -
    Do you support taxpayer funded abortion?”

    Sorry to pick on you gl but the vegetarian crowd has for a long time been up in arms over the government subsidies that go towards slaughterhouses and the cheap crops necessary to make big macs so cheap. Likewise with the peace movement who would wish that no dollar of their taxes went to our inflated “defense” budget. Some things won’t change.

  30. #30 Paula
    April 16, 2010

    Hey, gl, are people here misreading you, since you do say “Pro choice people happily accept both those who choose abortion and those who choose life. To each his own,” (which I’d like to think you meant as, in this regard, “her own”)? What exactly do you feel is the state’s role in regard to abortion?

  31. #31 Cate
    April 16, 2010

    gl: Your straw dogs don’t play too well on this list. We work in public health to save lives and increase the quality of life. You pretend you are saving lives, while desperately trying to put women at risk so your god’s will is done.

    I am not of your religion: you have no right to impose your religion on me. My family fought in the revolutionary war to be free from your religious insanity.

    Killing Down’s syndrome people and slaves? Making something up doesn’t produce a valid example. But your claim that pro-choice people are anywhere near your straw dog reaches far beyond the ken.

    Pro-choice/abortion people do not criticize women who choose to keep a down’s syndrome baby – again, you are making things up to justify an untenable position.

    You need to meet more of the people in your pro-life cult. Have REAL conversations with them. Find out what many of them really believe in their heart of hearts. If you have any humanity, you will run away from their domination. From everything I have read about your Christ, most ‘pro-lifers’ have nothing in common with him.

  32. #32 Granny Sue
    April 16, 2010

    gl@25:
    Yes.

  33. #33 gl
    April 16, 2010

    Bob is right – he knew exactly why I asked my question.

    If Revere and others support using my money to pay for other people’s abortions, then telling me to keep my mouth shut is a huge double standard. Same goes if you demand that pharmacists are required by law to provide birth control. I’m waiting to see where Revere stands after his #23 post.

    As for the whole religion angle, that also does not fly. “Do not steal” is one of the ten commandments. Does that mean we can’t pass a law regarding stealing? You need to differentiate between what is religious and whatever you want to call the basis for our laws. No one would attempt to pass a law saying you are required to attend church on Sunday. That is a religious belief. Arguing whether or not we can kill a fetus is not the same as arguing whether we can pass a law regarding church attendance.

    Paula – not totally sure what your question is, but I would prefer if the abortion issue was decided by the states and not by the federal government.

    Cate – Palin was completely vilified for her decision to keep her Down’s syndrome baby.

  34. #34 Granny Sue
    April 16, 2010

    gl re government funded medical procedures:

    The biggest percentage of my property tax ( and millions of my neighbors) funds the county hospital where I live. I’m not complaining. I imagine that hospital has performed abortions. It’s legal and covered by insurance.

    I for one never claimed to be a libertarian. I recognize the need to pay for things that help us live together in close quarters and good health.

  35. #35 gl
    April 16, 2010

    Granny Sue -

    Just wanted to say thanks for the discussion. We obviously don’t agree, but your discussion has been cordial with the goal of understanding – if not necessarily agreement.

  36. #36 Cate
    April 16, 2010

    gl:
    Oh please. You have now moved into the rediculous zone:
    Mrs. Palin was not vilified by liberals for keeping the Downs syndrome boy. Liberals are pro-choice. What part of ‘choice’ do you not understand? Though there was some right wing troll talk trying to stick us with that — never trust a troll! You must identify their IP to know who they are.
    Mrs. Palin was criticized for naming him Trig. How would you like to be called Trig when you have a very low probability of learning trig? Their lil’ snarky joke is likely to be cruel when he is a teenager trying to deal with other teenagers who often are insensitive at that age.
    Mrs. Palin was criticized for flying after she said her water broke, which would have put his health and life at risk.
    Mrs. Palin was criticized for her daughter’s pregnancies.
    Whether Mrs. Palin was pregnant with Trig was seriously questioned. I had no idea who she was when I saw her Vogue photos and thought: “Hmmm, that woman is so not pregnant.”
    Mrs. & Ms. Palin were criticized for preaching holier-than-thou abstinense when it clearly was not working.
    Mrs. Palin was criticized for bringing Trig into contact with crowds before he had a fully developed immune system.
    Mrs. Palin has been criticized for ignoring the continuity needs of a special-needs child.

    Mrs. Palin proudly praises her family values while her family desplays few: ‘all talk no action’ is the source of her vilification in that regard. Then, after prancing her family’s bad behavior into the public sphere, she claims the public intruded. Seems to be the favorite method for pro-life people to cover up their actual behavior.

    On that note:
    Does anyone know what happened to Jenna Bush’s baby? Did she give it up for adoption? Did George and Laura abandon their grandchild?! An amazing display of right wing pro-life family values.

  37. #37 monado
    April 18, 2010

    When I wore my pro-choice T-shirt, men would tell me that they were pro-choice. Older women wouldn’t mention it: they’d just give me their favourite recipe or best housekeeping tip.

  38. #38 Magpie
    April 20, 2010

    “As for the egg/sperm thing: before they meet, it requires an action on our part for them to connect. They don’t get together on their own.”

    If we didn’t have a condom between sperm and egg, a baby would result. We have taken action that results in the “death” of the cells that would otherwise have become a human being. Had we not taken this action, a human would have been born. Our action ended that possibility.

    People opposed to abortion must also logically be opposed to contraception.

    But wait – if I now make a decision not to bonk my spouse for the reason that I don’t want a baby to be born, this decision – this deliberate act of abstinence – will also lead to the death of the same cells which, had I not chosen the callous act of not-bonkery, WOULD HAVE BECOME A HUMAN.

    So anyone opposed to abortion and contraception must also logically be in favour of as much pregnancy as possible.

    …and honestly, my hat is off to the Catholic Church for their internal consistency (if nothing else).

    Me, I prefer to deal in ACTUAL humans, and not hypothetical ones.

    What’s a human? A human is a brain, and the higher functions it supports. Everything else is just sponge and padding. Just as I have no ethical problem with allowing the body of a brain-dead person to cease operations, I have no ethical problem with the termination of a cell-structure not remotely capable of supporting higher functions, even in theory.

  39. #39 Ender
    April 26, 2010

    Cate:But you really get to know the ugly cold heart of a ‘pro-lifer’ if you talk to them about rape: Women who are raped deserve every awful thing that could possibly happen to them, especially — actually hopefully — dying in childbirth of the rape-conceived pregnancy. Their belief: raped women asked for it, put themselves into a situation just to get raped because they wanted to be raped.

    You are a prejudiced idiot making stupid generalisations that just don’t hold true. I do not believe this, neither does any pro-life person I know. Moron.

  40. #40 Ender
    April 26, 2010

    And you’re being pretty insensitive to any pro-life people who have been raped, saying they believe rape victims deserved it, that they wanted to be raped. How about you just confine yourself to comments about your own opinions until you’ve learned not to run your mouth off.