called it heartwarming, others inoffensive, and many just said, "So, that
was it?" For all of the frenzy that led up to the Focus on the Family Tim
Tebow ad, what aired was quite ambiguous. Simply a goofy moment and call to
action for those who want to learn more about the story to visit their website
and see "the whole story."
what exactly is the story? The
story about the story itself is a very interesting saga. Maybe most interesting
for the fact that it doesn’t resemble the pre-commercial narrative fed to the
media at all.
of the news reports preceding the Super Bowl focused on how Pam Tebow would discuss
her struggle with the decision not to abort her son, despite doctors’ advice to
the contrary. Lifenews, the anti-abortion website of choice repeatedly pushed
that story, saying "The main ad during the Super Bowl reportedly will
share the Tebow birth story of how Tebow was on a mission
trip to the Philippines and, when she contracted amoebic dysentery for which
she reportedly took heavy medication was advised by her doctor to have an
abortion. She claims her doctor suggested an abortion because the drugs
could “harm her baby." We were also told how she had a placental
abruption, and once again she was encouraged to abort her fetus.
easy to become confused. Were
there several doctors suggesting an abortion? One doctor? A
doctor suggesting an abortion based on the possibility of fetal anomaly from
the medication? Or a doctor simply
advising her as to possible outcomes, as we have suggested before?
back to an in-depth profile of Tim Tebow in the Gainsville Sun in 2007, it would appear all of
this and more occurred, according to Pam Tebow:
before her pregnancy, Pam fell into a coma after contracting amoebic dysentery,
a bacteria transmitted through contaminated drinking water. During her
recovery, she received a series of strong medications. And even though she
discontinued the regimen when she discovered the pregnancy, doctors told Pam
the fetus had been damaged.
later told Pam that her placenta had detached from the uterine wall, a
condition known as placental abruption, which can deprive the fetus of oxygen
and nutrients. Doctors expected a stillbirth, Pam said, and they encouraged her
to terminate the pregnancy.
thought I should have an abortion to save my life from the beginning all the
way through the seventh month," she recalled.
said her decision to sustain the pregnancy was a simple one – because of her
were grieved," she said. "And so my husband just prayed that if the
Lord would give us a son, that he would let us raise him."
her seventh month of pregnancy, Pam traveled to the country’s capital, Manila,
where she received around-the-clock care from an American-trained physician.
the next two months, Pam – steadfastly praying for a healthy child – remained
on bed rest.
on her due date – Aug. 14, 1987 – Pam gave birth to Timothy Richard Tebow, who
she described as "skinny, but rather long." "We were concerned
at first because he was so malnourished, but he definitely made up for
it," she said, between laughs. Today Tim, now 20, stands at a solid
6’3" and 235 pounds.
a wonderful story of miraculous results, and a testimony of what can happen if
you don’t listen to the doctors and instead just carry a child to term.
Despite all of the warnings from medical professionals, mother and child were
also is completely different than the story Pam Tebow tells on the Focus on the
by the president of Focus on the Family, Pam’s story begins simply: she is an
older, high-risk mother conceiving a child in an area without good medical
conceived and we went to see the doctor in the town we lived in. She said he
wasn’t a baby at all, he was a mass of fetal tissue, and that I needed to abort
him immediately if I were going to save my life. Said it was a
tumor. We didn’t have to make a decision at that time. We had made
it previously, we were determined to trust the Lord with the children He would
didn’t have any more medical care at that time or any time until we moved to
Manila, the capital of the Philippines until the end of my pregnancy."
the Gainsville Sun, Tebow said "They thought I should have an abortion to
save my life from the beginning all the way through the seventh month,"
until she went to Manila. But in her interview for the website, she
states she never saw a doctor after that first appointment until she went to
Manila much later in her pregnancy.
would a doctor in the heavily Catholic Philippines where abortion is illegal
under any circumstances think she should have an abortion “from the
beginning?” From the beginning of
what? The sixth week? The 12th week? “In the beginning” of a pregnancy, the
developing fetus is in fact a “clump of fetal tissue.” Most tests confirming fetal anomalies
are not available until the beginning of the second trimester and require
laboratory results. Did this
doctor in the rural Philippines, sometimes referred to as “he” and sometimes
referred to as “she,” run high-technology tests solely for Pam Tebow?
this before or after her coma, or before or after the medication for dysentery
that her doctor ostensibly told her would cause birth defects and require her
can remember one time when I had been given some medicine to take for amoeba,
and I had taken one pill. I was reading with my oldest daughter the book
of Timothy, where we chose the name for our Timothy, and I just felt compelled
that I needed to go and read about the medicine and when I did I realized that
it said on the label ‘Could Cause Severe Birth Defects’ and so I threw it away
and had to deal with those physical issues as well."
she was in a coma and being cared for by whom? In the coma did she take the one pill on her own? Or was it administered only for her to
find out later?
was the placental abruption that Tebow stated caused doctors to tell her she
would have a stillbirth, and that caused them to recommend she abort the fetus
(and which, looking at the time line in the Gainsville Sun appears to have
happened before she went to Manila, when she now says she saw no doctors). In
her FoF interview, that medical problem appears not to have been diagnosed
until she gave birth.
was delivered in a Manila hospital…and when the doctor delivered him…[Bob
Tebow takes over speaking]There was a great big clump of blood that came out
where the placenta was improperly attached basically for the whole 9 months
completely. And so, you know, he’s a miracle baby."
abruption occurs generally in the third trimester. You don’t “walk around” with placental abruption for nine
the differences in these many versions matter at this point?
Tebows were sold by Focus on the Family to the American people as some sort of
“validation” for the pro-life movement. In short the message is: Doctors
can be wrong, and just because your life may be in danger or your fetus may be
at risk, it is worth carrying the pregnancy to term on the chance that medical
professionals may be mistaken. To FoF, the Tebows are proof that an abortion is
never necessary for medical reasons.
the story doesn’t hold together with so many versions of this story told
by Pam Tebow. And the story as
anti-abortion allegory isn’t as convincing if Tebow—who tells us in one version
she only sees a doctor at the very beginning and at the very end of her
pregnancy–isn’t repeatedly defying the doctors and isn’t facing a constant
risk to all involved.
As RH Reality Check columnist Amanda Marcotte puts it, "If you grow up or spend a lot of time around evangelicals, you’ll
realize they approach story-telling like stand-up comedians do, which
is to put a good story ahead of the literal truth. If a story
illustrates a larger concept they’re trying to get across, that seems
to be more important than getting the exact details right, especially
if the exact details distract from the moral they’re trying to get
was a story fed to a media that loves conflict and drama. A mother who
was possibly told at one point that her fetus wasn’t viable, and who then
avoided medical professionals until the end of her pregnancy makes a less
compelling story — and hurts your free media.
real story is available, of course, but the majority of the people who will see
that one already agree with Focus on the Family’s abortion stance.