Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Abortion, Super Bowl, and marketing; truth or entertainment?

Abortion, Superbowl, Ads

It's not the Budweiser frogs but abortion that's generating the most buzz about Super Bowl Sunday ads this year. Focus on the Family produced a 30 second spot about Pam Tebow, mother of former college quarterback Tim Tebow, and her decision not to have an abortion.

The message: if you decide to have that baby, everything will be fine: he'll be a strong, handsome, successful guy, and you can ride the story to glory in support of a cause you believe in.

That's a snarky and slanted interpretation, of course. Still, like most snark, there's truth in it. Feminist and other groups tried unsuccessfully to get the antiabortion ad pulled, claiming it's misleading, controversial, and maybe not quite true.

Some choices are easy, but others are not. The choice to have an abortion is not often easy, but the choice about running this ad is. Of course it should run.

The way to deal with difficult issues in the media isn't to prevent people from telling and hearing their stories. It's to make sure the stories presented are free of lies, errors, and deliberate misleadings. They can still attempt to persuade you.

Tebow's story (as I interpret it) is that she was pregnant, in the Phillipines, and taking medication for a serious illness. The medication was known to have the ability to alter fetal cells in a way that would or could harm the fetus. Her doctor suggested an abortion, and she refused.

I know how she felt. In late 1989, I was pregnant with twins. My doctor made the same recommendation to me. Only in my case, the suggestion was to abort one of the twins. The reason? A prenatal genetic test, the alpha-fetoprotein test (AFP), suggested that one twin might have Down Syndrome.

I had told the doctor no genetic testing because I wasn't going to do anything with the results if they were negative. And I especially did not want the AFP test, which I knew had a high incidence of false negatives. This was my last chance to have a baby and I'd worked hard to get pregnant.

He ran the test anyway, from a blood sample I thought was being taken routinely.

At this point, I want to be clear about my beliefs. A woman and her doctor should be able to make the choice to have an early abortion for any reason without interference from others. Late abortions should be available for medical reasons. Those are rare but no one chooses this traumatic procedure without a very good reason. I also believe that people need to take sex and reproduction very seriously and be responsible for their actions. Use contraception, not abortion.

We knew the fetus that was George was fine. But imaging wasn't as sophisticated then as it is now, and Liz was in an odd position.

They couldn't really see if she had the tell-tale signs of Down Syndrome.  And I wasn't about to even slightly increase the risk of miscarriage through cell sampling. That may not seem a rational choice, but it was the choice of my heart -- and of my circumstances as a mature woman, economically secure enough and happily married.

But I was not going to have an abortion. It wasn't the right choice for me. Not only would it seem strange to say "oops, not exactly what I had in mind," but what would I say to the other twin? "Well, your sister wasn't perfect so I let the doctor put a needle through her heart so you could grow big and strong." It's a Sophie's Choice no one wants to make.

During the rest of the pregnancy I suspected both babies were fine. The test was redone, with different results. Still, the doctor couldn't answer the question "which result  is  right?" I worried constantly until the moment Liz, reluctant to leave her warm cozy place, was yanked out with forceps and the neonatologist said "she's perfect."

It turns out that the test results had not only been wrong but somewhere along the way, someone had interpreted the report incorrectly. The neonatologist found that out in three seconds of glancing at the chart. I'm not sure why the doctor I'd visited weekly missed it.

Whatever problems the Tebow "Celebrate family, celebrate life" ad might have, it also raises important issues. Doctors are not infallible. Not only can medical evidence be confusing or wrong, but the physician likely holds biases and beliefs that may be different from your own. The system, whatever it is, can act in ways that disrespect persons, whether those persons are mothers or fetuses.

It's our responsibility to learn as much as we can on all sides of an issue and then decide what is best. No slogans on one side or facts on the other are sufficient alone.

The truth is complicated. For one thing, truths can collide or overlap. I was pushed to the edges of my capacities by having two healthy, easy babies. I don't know what would have happened had one had serious special needs. It's also my truth that had one of the babies had an anomaly that was incompatible with life, such as lacking a brain, and the healthy fetus been threatened by it, I would have had a "selective" (single fetus) abortion. There are shades of gray here.

The most interesting objection to the ad comes from Tim Calkins of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Social issue ads, he says, are not very entertaining. "If you end up with a lot of (them), you diminish the appeal (of watching Super Bowl)."

Wouldn't want anything to get in the way of that, now, would we?

This site uses Facebook comments to make it easier for you to contribute. If you see a comment you would like to flag for spam or abuse, click the "x" in the upper right of it. By posting, you agree to our Terms of Use.

Page Tools