UPDATED: Was Pam Tebow’s Life Ever Threatened in Pregnancy?

Jodi Jacobson

When pregnant with son Tim, Pam Tebow was in the Philippines and became ill with amoebic dysentery. Early reports indicated that she was faced with a choice of continuing the pregnancy at the risk to her life. That appears not to be true.

This post was updated at 2:10 pm Thursday, January 28th, 2010 to reflect new analysis from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

We have been reporting on the sudden shift in policy by CBS News on accepting advocacy ads during the Super Bowl just in time to accept $2.5 million from Focus on the Family for an ad that features Tim and Pam Tebow.  Tim Tebow is a Heisman Trophy winner and a prospective NFL player.

When pregnant with Tim, Pam Tebow was in the Philippines on a mission and became ill with amoebic dysentery.  Early reports indicated that she was faced with a choice of continuing the pregnancy at the risk to her life.

That appears not to be true.  Indeed the very facts of the situation are now in question.

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During a bible study class, Pam Tebow related that "during that pregnancy, a Philippine doctor suggested
that she abort the fetus because the strong medications she was being
treated with for amoebic dysentery, which she had contacted early in
the pregnancy, could cause serious disabilities to the fetus."

Suggested that she abort the pregnancy?  Or laid out the various risks that were possible, leaving her to her own judgment and choices?  Made a definitive judgment that the fetus would unquestionably be harmed?  Or described the risks of the medication necessary to treat the dysentery, including possible risks to the fetus?  All of these are very different scenarios than the ones earlier suggested.

The Tebows are fundamentalist Christians and are "anti-choice" which, as Amanda Marcotte points out, in effect makes them "pro-choice," because they have a choice to make even when circumstances are not ideal.

Pam Tebow relates that given her faith, having an abortion–which no one has suggested she should have done in any case–was not an option.

"We knew that we could not do that," she said of the suggested
abortion. "We all prayed to God for a healthy baby," she recalled. "And
God answered our prayers when Timmy was born."

Again…her choice, and one she seeks to take away from other women, men, and their families.

But….the operative words here: "could cause serious disabilities."

This indeed changes the whole narrative, and makes even more suspicious the trotting out of Pam Tebow as an anti-choice spokesperson.

First, as someone who herself had to be on strong medication during both of the pregnancies with my now 10- and 13-year old children, and indeed whose own health was at serious risk, the issue of "risks that could cause" problems is very different than receiving a definitive diagnosis either that something is proved to be wrong or that this pregnancy might or will kill you.  In conjunction with my physicians, I calculated and considered the risks at every step of the way of two extraordinarily difficult pregnancies.

I took risks in the interest of myself and my children in both pregnancies, hoping for the best.  I don’t consider myself a heroine or with any special story to share.  Millions of women calculate risks every day for the children they have, for the ones they may bear, and for other reasons; indeed we all–men and women–calculate risks every day of our lives, and we do so on behalf of our children, unless of course we keep each of them locked in a closet. (Mine are not.) Moreover, I had an abortion at an earlier point in my life, which was absolutely the right choice for me, enabled me to be a prepared and mature parent when I did have children, and about which I have absolutely no regrets.

But Tebow’s story is being used to "pave the way for her to find a new platform to use her influence."

Since the first interview early last year, for example, "Pam Tebow has been contacted by pro-life organizations requesting her to keynote upcoming conventions and gatherings. She said she is excited about the opportunity to share her pro-life beliefs and has already been scheduled for appearances and speeches in Dallas and Louisville."

So…a story that has been reported for some years on and off, and around which Pam Tebow is now building a career all of a sudden becomes a very promising cash cow for Focus on the Family, which is spending $2.5 million on an ad after having laid off hundreds of employees because of budget crises. Focus on the Family, which describes itself as "helping families thrive," is hoping to use this ad to drive donations to its website.  How’s the thriving going among those families with employees laid off from the organization, Dr. Dobson? 

Moreover, as pointed out this afternoon by the Center for Reproductive Rights, abortion is illegal in the Philippines, again calling the story itself into question.  As noted in a CRR press release today:

“If the
Focus on the Family Super Bowl ad is based on the highly publicized
Tebow story, then it raises a number of serious factual questions.
Abortion has been illegal in the Philippines for over a century—no
exceptions,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for
Reproductive Rights. “CBS recently announced that their policy for
advocacy ads has evolved, easing restrictions. Whatever the evolution,
we are very concerned that the network would air an ad that recounts a
story out-of-context and is paid for by an anti-choice organization. We
strongly encourage CBS to pull the ad.” 

Abortion was criminalized in the Philippines in 1870 and has been illegal in the country ever since. There are no exceptions to the law. Abortion
is even prohibited when a woman’s life or health is in danger. Women
are punished with imprisonment between two to six years if they obtain
one. Doctors and midwives who directly cause or assist a woman in an
abortion face six years imprisonment and may have their licenses
suspended or revoked.

Because of the severity of the Philippines law, abortion is
underground, says CRR:

making it unsafe, potentially deadly and highly
stigmatized. Every year, more than 500,000 women in the country try to
terminate their pregnancies.  In 2008 alone, criminal abortions
resulted in the deaths of at least 1000 women and 90,000 more suffered
complications.
 

So….was Tebow’s doctor ignorant of the law and policy of his or her own country?  Or, was the doctor willing to skirt the law for a relatively wealthy (in the context of the extreme poverty in the Philippines) white woman from the United States?   Or did the doctor, again, merely lay out the range of options should it be found that the possible risks of a medication or the possible side effects of the medication should she opt to take it?

CRR today sent a letter to CBS, calling on the network’s Standards and Practices Department to reconsider running the ad.

"While the exact content of the advertisement has not been revealed yet, the commercial is expected to recount the story of Pam Tebow’s pregnancy in 1987," noted CRR.   

Let’s be clear then: Pam Tebow’s story appears to have morphed into something it is not for the purpose of marketing and proseltyzing.  Tebow’s own personal choices are irrelevant to the broader context of every and any other individual woman seeking to become pregnant, avoid pregnancy, or make the decisions that are right for her about a possible or existing pregnancy, no matter what label she applies to herself.  Each woman is unique; each situation is unique; each woman acting as a moral agent on behalf of herself, and her family, with her medical advisors or whomever she chooses to engage has the right and the need to exercise these choices in the moment in her life such choices are relevant and based on her own "celebration of life."

And on this the vast majority of Americans agree.

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