Super Bowl advertising has always been a showcase of overt sexism. This year the biased barrage also includes CBS's and the NFL's decision to air a seemingly subtle ad highlighting college football star Tim Tebow's story, sponsored by Focus on the Family, which aggressively works to strip women of medical choices. This decision should be seen as a referendum on the status of women in the media and marks the first time the Super Bowl will be used to push a polarizing, political agenda.
The Women's Media Center and a coalition of organizations dedicated to reproductive rights, tolerance, and social justice is calling on CBS and the NFL to pull Focus on the Family's anti-choice propaganda ad. We do not have to see the ad to know Focus on the Family's real agenda. While pretending its message is a "celebration of life," their true intent is to have the government intrude in women's reproductive health decisions. The subliminal messaging of the ad is also a thinly veiled effort to shame the one in three American women who have an abortion and a dangerous suggestion that choosing to carry a pregnancy to term -- regardless of the risks -- is the right decision for all women.
Would CBS and the NFL really have accepted a Super Bowl ad promoting reproductive health care from Planned Parenthood? History suggests not a chance. At best, CBS's last-minute offer to air a counter ad by a reproductive rights organization was nothing more than a public relations gimmick. At worst, CBS's executives purposely devised a revenue model that involves airing incendiary advocacy ads, thereby pressuring opponents to pay the network to respond. Any effort to increase ad sales by equating the serious attacks on reproductive rights to the same playing field as Coca Cola vs. Pepsi irresponsibly ignores the increasing vitriolic climate around reproductive health. The Women's Media Center recognizes that engaging in a multi-million-dollar, 30-second ad war with Focus on the Family, an organization that promotes forced pregnancy, is a losing strategy and does little to advance a more meaningful dialogue about the difficult reproductive choices women make every day.
Women's health is not a game, and abortion is only part of the reproductive health equation. Every year women turn to family planning clinics and their doctors for sound advice, mammograms, pap smears, breast exams, prenatal care, sexually transmitted infection testing, and preventative services like sex education and access to contraception. According to the Guttmacher Institute, half of all pregnancies in the United Stated are unintended. Women's reproductive health should be fair, safe and covered and we stand up against organizations like Focus on the Family, which use medical misinformation, politics and 30-second ads to preach morality to women.
Our campaign to get the ad pulled is not a first amendment issue -- the Women's Media Center, NOW, Feminist Majority and others are not government entities attempting to regulate speech. As we exercise our first amendment right to protest, we are incorrectly labeled "would-be censors." The FCC and media corporations make decisions every day about what can air over the networks without charges of censorship. We wouldn't be having this conversation if the ad was sponsored by the KKK. CBS' decision to debut its new policy of accepting advocacy ads during the Super Bowl by climbing in bed with a right-wing, anti-woman, homophobic organization -- and the NFL's explicit endorsement -- indicates a clear bias. That this unprecedented break from a longstanding tradition of relative political impartiality comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision bestowing person-hood on corporations is a real threat to fair representation in the media.
CBS and the NFL gambled that women would allow this biased decision to go unchecked. A week into our campaign, over two hundred thousand emails have been sent to CBS, the NFL, and their advertisers protesting the airing of the ad. This campaign will continue through the Super Bowl as multiple organizations mount boycotts and protests.
Would-be perpetrators of sexism and bias in the media take note. We are watching, monitoring and will mount similar campaigns as necessary.
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