Will the Real Pam Tebow Story Please Stand Up?


Some
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."

 

But
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.

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.

It’s
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?

Going
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:

Just
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.

Doctors
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.

"They
thought I should have an abortion to save my life from the beginning all the
way through the seventh month," she recalled.

Pam
said her decision to sustain the pregnancy was a simple one – because of her
faith.

"We
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."

In
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.

For
the next two months, Pam – steadfastly praying for a healthy child – remained
on bed rest.

And
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.

It’s
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
both perfect.

It
also is completely different than the story Pam Tebow tells on the Focus on the
Family
website.

Interviewed
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
care. 

"I
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
give us…

I
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." 

In
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.

Why
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?

Was
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
to abort?

"I
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."

So
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?

Then there
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.

"He
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."

Placental
abruption occurs generally in the third trimester.  You don’t “walk around” with placental abruption for nine
months.

Do
the differences in these many versions matter at this point?  

The
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.

But
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
across."

This
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. 

The
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.  

 

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

Follow Robin Marty on twitter: @robinmarty

  • daredevil

    The article said: Why would a doctor in the heavily Catholic Philippines where abortion is illegal under any circumstances think she should have an abortion “from the beginning?”

    My response:

    So much for the pro-choicer argument that if you make abortion illegal, it will still happen regardless.

    Never mind the fact that in the Philippines several thousands or more are performed each year by doctors, including REPEAT ABORTIONS.

    And never mind the fact that abortion for birth control is commonplace.

    Never mind the fact that abortion according to the UN is indeed allowed for life of mother in danger.

    If you are going to accuse someone you don’t know what the person’s life is truly like of lying, given you were not there 23 years ago, don’t fudge facts to make your accusation.

    Your side should know something about making up stories to advance your cause? Doe v Bolton, anyone?

    If conservatives have accused a pro-choice woman of making up a story about her circumstances, though they don’t know themselves if that is true or not, and have to fudge facts, they would be accused of being sexist. And guess what? They would DESERVE IT TOO!

    The constant smearings of Pam Tebow just to support one’s ideology is sexist to the core.

  • robin-marty

    that she has made different statements in different venues. I believe the facts in my piece support that assertion.

  • daredevil

    done a year illegal for birth control mostly.

    Cano, the Doe of the 1970s abortion case, stated your side relied on fraud and false pretenses to get the worst forms of abortion legalized.

    So when your side accuses others of tall telling, it is like pot calling kettle black. Not to mention it is just pure slander, for the sake of ideology.

    If conservatives have done the same thing to a pro-choicer woman who had unfortunately circumstances where she felt she had no choice but to abort, not knowing if her story is true or not, then I would have myself call what they did sexist.

    Why not the same standards for your side there?

  • daredevil

    “that she has made different statements in different venues. I believe the facts in my piece support that assertion.”

    Does not change the fact you fudged facts claiming as if no doctor would suggest abortion or perform any in the Philippines, and as if not even life of mother in danger is allowed under the law in that country.

    When you have to do that to smear a person and make bigoted remarks about whole groups of people of faith, then your own credibility is undermined, to the average observer who is not hellbent on destroying any and everybody who don’t pander to your agenda.

  • horsegirl

    I can certainly see how you could be confused. Medical histories given by non-medical people can sometimes sound like a fairytale. I haven’t read all the articles you listed but I did watch the interview on FotF website. As a nurse it seems obvious to me that when Pam first saw a doctor with her 5th pregnancy that doctor thought she had a molar pregnancy. Molar pregnancies are freakish and the standard treatment is a D&C (aka therapuetic abortion). BTW, according to the UN abortions are legeal in the Phillipines if the mother’s life is in danger. Also, I’ve known more than one woman who have had a ‘chronic abruption’ for most of their pregnancies. Scary stuff too.

  • rulingsword

    It just needs to be clear to everyone – abortion occurs at a higher rate in the Philippines than it does in the U.S.. Filipinos have a fourth the population of the U.S. but have half as many abortions. Claiming something illegal is impossible in the Philippines demonstrates serious ignorance of Filipino society and culture. It probably stems from Americans thinking their split country is a sample of how the world works. The Philippines, a proudly Christian nation, accepts and celebrates homosexuality far more than Americans do. A gay pop icon will admire an ordinary woman’s prayer life on national television. An American might wonder how would a gay man be so comfortable in "the heavily Catholic Philippines" and go on to ramble endlessly and ambiguously about a conspiracy. Filipinos will say, as we Filipinos like to say at our televisions a lot,"only in the Philippines."

  • amanda-marcotte

    Which is why non-medical professionals going on TV and encouraging women to ignore their doctors advice are behaving immorally and unethically.  I’d love to get a lawyer’s opinion on what would happen if a woman took Pam Tebow’s medical advice to ignore doctors and was injured or killed, and her family decided to take legal action.

  • robin-marty

    Before the ad, she said she was constantly told to have an abortion by numerous doctors from the moment of conception until she was 7 months pregnant. In the FoF website interview she said she was told to have an abortion by the first doctor she saw, who thought there was something wrong with the pregnancy, and that she never even saw another doctor until she was more than 7 months pregnant, and that second doctor never suggested an abortion.

    Those seem like two very different stories to me.

  • jodi-jacobson

    that the Tebows tell several different versions of these stories, including yet another one told to a church group four years ago, the most critical point is this:

    Women with wanted pregnancies will do everything they can given their own circumstances to keep them. What constitutes "everything they can given their own circumstances" depends on just that: their own families, circumstances, health, other children, capacities, financial resources and so on.

     

    The reality is that Pam Tebow had a wanted pregnancy and whatever the real story is, she did everything she could to keep it.  That is her right and her choice and I defend both of those. 

     

    I still fail to see what is remarkable or different about her story than any of 100 others I know personally of women who had extraordinary difficult wanted pregnancies (including my own two difficult but wanted pregnancies) or millions of others about which I know nothing personally.

     

    Women make such choices every day.  Nothing whatsoever remarkable about the Tebows…..except of course that the subtext is that women who have wanted pregnancies should risk their lives–which I do not believe they should be shamed into doing–or that women with unwanted or failed pregnancies who choose abortion should somehow be stigmatized. 

     

    That is the only point of glorifying the Tebows.  Doing so based on a story that constantly changes is not only sad and obvious, but also unethical and dangerous.

     

    Jodi Jacobson

  • horsegirl

    Very valid point, Amanda. Pam Tebow’s story has a happy ending and I have known other similar stories. But women listening to her story should take it with a measure of salt. Medical professionals aren’t perfect all the time. But the large majority of the time they are right and they DO know what they are talking about. And yes, even with all our wonderful technology, women do still die from complications of pregnancy.

  • daredevil

    I think taking shots at the Tebows on the part of the abortionists is just as wrong as pro-lifers and others making fun of NOW president O’Neil.

    Here’s why I will defend O’Neil, though I disagree with her comments about the ad being for promotion of violence against women (I agree with Kissling, that’s ridiculoous): she is a victim of spousal abuse, or so she says. As a a victim in the past of that, she should be shown compassion, not mockery, even when she let that perhaps cloud her judgment.

    Folks can say all they want she need to get over it and it’s in the past.

    I say to them: they are wrong.

    The mind and heart are not like VCR where we can delete bad memories and hurt feelings like we do movies on a video tape. It stays and grows if left unchecked, and if kept in check, it will still be there, and maybe there may be times events or things (like the ad) trigger that memory. We don’t know in this case what’s the story with O’Neil. Nor get into her heart and mind.

    But what we should all do, regardless of which side, is show compassion. Say as on my side, we disagree, but we understand why you have the reaction you did. And hope you grow strong out of it, and let that help you be a better person in dealing with others.

  • ellejaydub

    whether medical professionals are smarter than laypeople (in regards to medical issues). It’s not that Pam’s doctors were "wrong" or possibly "made a mistake." Don’t you get that it’s completely irrelevant to people like the Tebows? Pam could’ve died, Tim could’ve died, but their faith in God is what sustained them. Their faith in God — not their lack of faith in the doctor(s) — is why they kept the pregnancy.

     

    For a similar story of tremendous faith (which, tragically, didn’t result in such a blessed outcome), read the story of Angie & Todd Smith (singer in Christian band, Selah) here.

     

     

  • crowepps

    And yet googling this story, the story hinges on how ‘Pam’s doctors put pressure on her to abort’ and on the Tebow Evangelical website it states she ‘refused’ to abort, so that her testimony is PERCEIVED to be not about ‘we were in a terrible situation in which we lived our faith and luckily it turned out well’ but instead is PERCEIVED to be about ‘evil doctors tried to make Pam abort and she resisted their unholy advice’.

     

    Certainly there have been a number of commentators here on this board who have argued that when doctors explain pregnancy complications and the risks of continuing the pregnancy, the very fact that they bring up the option of abortion is wrong because telling the patients the medical facts is putting pressure on them to choose abortion and can fairly be described as equivalant to ‘forcing’ them to make that choice.

    For a similar story of tremendous faith (which, tragically, didn’t result in such a blessed outcome),

    No, no, no, I’m sorry, but that’s just NOT the way it works.

    If God is entirely in control of one’s life, if one accepts His Will whatever it is, then there aren’t any ‘disasters’.

    ANYTHING that happens is supposed to be accepted as ‘a blessed outcome’.

    Having ‘tremendous faith’ requires that one believe the horrible, agonizing deaths of both mother and child are ‘part of God’s plan’.

    That’s the whole POINT of tremendous faith equals believing that medical advice is ‘totally irrelevant’.

  • ellejaydub

    You’re quite right, it is all about "perception." That Audrey Caroline’s life was so short is tragic from my point of view, not Angie or Todd Smith’s.

     

    The Smiths accepted God’s will from day one and continue to praise Him, even with empty arms.
    They know Audrey’s life wasn’t in vain, that God is using her even now.

     

    It’s horribly sad to hear someone say believing in God’s plan = "believing that medical advice is totally irrelevant." Clearly you don’t have the kind of faith that I have. It’s not about disregarding the doctors, it’s about believing that God is bigger than any disease. Sometimes He heals by removing the sickness, but sometimes He "heals" by taking that person home to heaven. We praise Him regardless. 

  • crowepps

    You said:

    It’s not that Pam’s doctors were "wrong" or possibly "made a mistake." Don’t you get that it’s completely irrelevant to people like the Tebows?

    And then you said:

    It’s horribly sad to hear someone say believing in God’s plan = "believing that medical advice is totally irrelevant."

    Which one of these things do you believe?

    It’s not about disregarding the doctors, it’s about believing that God is bigger than any disease. Sometimes He heals by removing the sickness, but sometimes He "heals" by taking that person home to heaven. We praise Him regardless. 

    I get the praise Him regardless part.

    I get the whatever happens is part of God’s plan part.

    I DON’T get the "it’s not about disregarding the doctors" because that is precisely the action for which Tebow is being held up as an example of what others should do in order to demonstrate morality.