I know a little about football. I know the basic rules and I have been to a few pro games at Rich Stadium. I also know what I don’t know. As a gynecologist, I would never dream of telling a football coach how to lead a team to the Super Bowl. That’s why I’m mystified and frustrated that CBS is letting someone who knows nothing about my job tell Super Bowl viewers how to handle a complicated pregnancy.
I’m an ob/gyn who provides a range of health care to my patients, including abortion services. I know that some pregnant women face hard choices. Sometimes women end pregnancies to save their lives, or because their health or their baby’s health is compromised.
On January 16, CBS announced that it would broadcast an ad during the Super Bowl in which football player Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam, talk about her pregnancy with Tim. In past interviews, Pam has said that she contracted a dangerous infection during her pregnancy. Because of the medications she was taking, and other health problems, her doctors advised her to have an abortion. Pam refused.
Her story is compelling. Pam Tebow’s difficult pregnancy, however, doesn’t make her an expert in reproductive health, any more than attending a few NFL games makes me an expert on football.
Most women, thankfully, have healthy pregnancies. Others develop complications due to an existing health problem that worsens in pregnancy. Still others learn they have a disease, like cancer, while they are pregnant. When one of my patients faces medical complications in pregnancy, we discuss everything, both the risks and the treatment options.
Pam and Tim Tebow both survived this complicated pregnancy. The women who do not survive are not here to tell their stories, except through the doctors who treated them. I took care of Sarah, a 38-year-old woman with a serious auto-immune disease. Knowing that a pregnancy would threaten her health, Sarah used birth control, but she got pregnant anyway. As her pregnancy progressed, her condition worsened. Eventually, Sarah couldn’t get enough oxygen into her body to survive. We tried all the treatments we had. She was counseled that abortion was needed to save her life but she chose to wait, hospitalized, trying to get to a point when her baby could survive. Her condition deteriorated and finally, with our help, she ended the pregnancy. It was too late. Her heart and lungs was so badly compromised by the pregnancy that she died as her doctors tried to implant a pacemaker. I wish we would have been able to help Sarah sooner; she might be alive today caring for her teenage son.
The Super Bowl is the biggest day of the year for advertisers. As many viewers tune in for the ads as for the game. Front page stories will recount the highlights of the game—and the best and worst commercials that aired. That’s why Focus on the Family, an anti-abortion organization, not a medical organization, raised millions of dollars to air this commercial. They want to tell the broadest possible audience that women with complicated pregnancies can—and should!—ignore their doctors’ advice. As a physician, this leaves me feeling an urgency to get out a different message, one that conveys the reality we see in the hospital every day. Denial does not make risk go away.
When it comes to personal medical decisions, no Monday morning quarterback should be making the calls. For the sake of my patients—and the thousands of other women who face complicated pregnancies each year—I hope CBS will blow the whistle on the Tebows’ ad.