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Pro-Choice Advocates Criticize CBS for Accepting Anti-Abortion Super Bowl Ad

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With the Super Bowl just two days away, the game’s broadcaster CBS is coming under criticism for accepting an anti-abortion ad paid for by Focus on the Family. For years, CBS and other networks have rejected advocacy ads during the Super Bowl. We get reaction from Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood and sportswriter Dave Zirin, author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: With the Super Bowl just two days away, the game’s broadcaster CBS is coming under criticism for its decision to accept an anti-abortion ad paid for by Focus on the Family.

For years, CBS and other networks have rejected advocacy ads during the Super Bowl. In 2004, the network refused to air ads from MoveOn, PETA and the United Church of Christ that promoted the Church’s acceptance of gay and lesbian parishioners. At the time, CBS said it won’t air an ad that, quote, “touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance.” Just weeks ago, CBS rejected a Super Bowl ad for a gay men’s dating website called ManCrunch. But the network is defending its decision to sell airtime for the anti-abortion ad from Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian organization founded by James Dobson.

AMY GOODMAN: The ad has not been publicly shown, but it’s said to show the mother of college football star Tim Tebow talking about her choice to continue her pregnancy in 1987 against medical advice of her doctor.

The website Daily Beast reported CBS worked with Focus on the Family on the ad’s script. Gary Schneeberger, a spokesperson for Focus on the Family, said, quote, “There were discussions about the specific wording of the spot. And we came to a compromise.”

Well, Planned Parenthood responded to the Tebow ad by producing this online video featuring former NFL player Sean James and the Olympic gold medalist Al Joyner.

    SEAN JAMES: I’m Sean James. I’m a former college and professional football player.

    AL JOYNER: I’m Al Joyner. I won the Olympic gold medal in the triple jump.

    SEAN JAMES: I love my family, and I love sports.

    AL JOYNER: And Super Bowl weekend is a perfect time to honor both sports and family.

    SEAN JAMES: There’s a lot of talk leading up to this Super Bowl about an ad focused on sports and family. The ad features a great football player, Tim Tebow, and his loving mother discussing a difficult medical decision she made for her family. I respect and honor Mrs. Tebow’s decision.

    AL JOYNER: I want my daughter to live in a world where everyone’s decisions are respected.

    SEAN JAMES: My mom showed me that women are strong and wise. She taught me that only women can make the best decisions about their health and their future.

    AL JOYNER: My daughter will always be my little girl, but I’m proud every day as I watch her grow up to be her own person, a smart, confident young woman. I trust her to take care of herself.

    SEAN JAMES: We’re working toward the day where every woman will be valued, where every woman’s decision about her health and her family will be respected.

    AL JOYNER: We celebrate families by supporting our mothers, by supporting our daughters, by trusting women.

AMY GOODMAN: Former NFL player Sean James and Olympic gold medalist Al Joyner in the ad produced by Planned Parenthood.

We’re now joined in the Democracy Now! studio by Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. In Washington, DC, we’re joined by sportswriter Dave Zirin, author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States.

Let’s begin with you, Cecile Richards. So, they have this ad, Focus on Family. Have you seen it?

CECILE RICHARDS: I have not seen it.

AMY GOODMAN: But you’ve produced this ad, which is not going to air in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

CECILE RICHARDS: No, in fact, if I had two-and-a-half million dollars, which Focus on the Family spent, we’d put it into healthcare for women, which is really what we do primarily at Planned Parenthood.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about Focus on the Family’s ad, its message, what you understand it is, and why you’ve produced this one.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I think that actually — I mean, I haven’t seen the ad, but Mrs. Tebow’s story is a compelling one. This is a woman who had very — had important medical information, had to make a decision that encompassed a lot of moral and medical elements, and she came to the decision that was right for her and her family. And for Planned Parenthood, this really underscores exactly what we’re about, which is, we believe that every woman should be able to make personal, private medical decisions about their health, without government interference. And I think that actually is pretty much what the Tebow story is.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, we invited CBS to join us on the program, but they declined our request. The network issued the following statement: quote, “We have for some time moderated our approach to advocacy submissions after it became apparent that our stance did not reflect public sentiment or industry norms on the issue…At CBS, our standards and practices process continues to adhere to a process that ensures all ads — on all sides of an issue — are appropriate for air.”

I’d like to ask Dave Zirin in Washington, the importance of these ads on Super Bowl — on Super Bowl day and some of the history of this issue of the controversy over ads?

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah, it’s so frustrating, because to look at our culture, to look at our movies, and now to look at Super Bowl Sunday, you would never know that a woman actually has the right to choose in this country. And yet, so much of the culture is lined up against that. For CBS to say that this is not an issue that evokes controversy, I mean, obviously the protest belies that.

The thing about the Super Bowl is that it is the one event on an annual basis in this country that really unites national viewership. Over the last generation, you’ve seen ratings for the Olympics fall, you’ve seen ratings for the World Series fall, you’ve even seen the ratings for things like the presidential inauguration fall, because you have 5,000 channels now and a very divided entertainment gaze. But the difference is, the Super Bowl actually is bigger now than it was twenty years ago. A lot of people watch just to see the commercials.

And for CBS to give an organization like Focus on the Family that kind of viewership, to me, is beneath contempt. And I think Planned Parenthood should have equal time on Super Bowl Sunday and should not have to spend one dime to have it.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s your response, Cecile?

CECILE RICHARDS: I love that idea. I think that’s — I think that’d be a wonderful, wonderful thing, because I think your point is really important, in that the purpose of Focus on the Family, which is a far right organization, in showing this ad, is not to really tell the Tebow story. I think it’s really — their purpose is to try to undermine the legal right of women in this country to choose to terminate a pregnancy if they so choose. And that’s, I think — again, I think the important thing is for — since millions of viewers will be watching this story, I think it’s an important time to reflect on the Tebow family’s — what happened there, because, again, I think it underscores a very fundamental American value, which is that women have to have the right to make decisions that can be complex, medical, moral decisions, but they have to be able to make those decisions without the government interfering and telling them what to do.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to look at an ad that CBS did not accept. CBS accepted the Focus on the Family ad for the Super Bowl, and, the Daily Beast says, they helped write it, helped perfect the script. But CBS refused to air this ad from mancrunch.com, an online dating site for gay men.

    SPORTSCASTER: Ten, five, touchdown!

    FAN 1: Come on!

    FAN 2: Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about, baby!

    FAN 1: You suck!

    FAN 2: Yeah, that’s right. OK, now let’s convert. Let’s go. Let’s go.

    SONG: I want to kiss the sky [or, this guy]. I really, really, really want to kiss the sky [or, this guy].

AMY GOODMAN: For our radio audience, the ad ends with a scene of two male football fans kissing. In a statement, CBS wrote, quote, “After reviewing the ad — which is entirely commercial in nature — our Standards and Practices department decided not to accept this particular spot. As always, we are open to working with the client on alternative submissions.”

Dave Zirin, first your response? Then we’ll get Cecile Richards’.

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, let’s remember, last year, there was a Super Bowl ad that also had two men kissing, but it followed with them tearing out their own chest hair in pain and in self-abasement, as if they had to do something very manly to themselves to sort of wash away the idea that they had any sort of man-on-man affection for one another. So that’s where you get to the tricky thing about advocacy ads, because when it comes to things like homophobia, CBS has advocated that during the Super Bowl. When it comes to things like women wanting to wear bikinis in front of men who drink beer, they’ll advocate that. When it comes to the US armed forces — I mean, this is the Pentagon’s big commercial day — they’ll advocate that. And now Focus on the Family has a seat at the table, as well. So this is — I would argue, this is actually right-wing censorship, when you have MoveOn, United Church of Christ and Planned Parenthood left out of the party.

AMY GOODMAN: Cecile Richards?

CECILE RICHARDS: No, I think that’s a good point. I think there’s no way — obviously, we haven’t come out and said that ads should be censored, but they need to have — it has to be equal treatment. And I think that’s what you’re saying, that it hasn’t been true. So, you know, maybe this is going to cause a new conversation with CBS, for sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin, I’d like to ask you to stay with us. But for the moment, I want to stick with Cecile Richards on some other issues. An abstinence study has just come out. I’d like you to summarize what it’s all about. And how it’s been played right now is that this shows that abstinence education works, just saying no.

CECILE RICHARDS: Right. So, I mean, there have been many studies over the last ten years, because, of course, under the Bush administration, that was the federal government’s program, is that they funded programs in schools that only taught abstinence, that never provided any information, in fact provided misleading information about contraception, using condoms.

What this new study shows is simply that abstinence should be an important part of any comprehensive sex education program. That’s what we believe at Planned Parenthood. It’s clearly part of a sex education program. But the difference in this new study is that they didn’t — they did talk about contraception, and they provided information to young people. Under the Bush era, this program never would have been funded.

And I think that — I hope we’re moving to a new place in America, which is we can actually talk honestly and openly about what we can do to help reduce teen pregnancy. We now have 750,000 teenagers get pregnant every year in the United States. So, clearly we have to do something better, and just teaching abstinence isn’t going to be enough.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And another change from the Bush era, the decision of the Obama administration in the new budget to fund international family-planning efforts. You put out a statement on that. How do you see that as a major signal change for the administration?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, it’s tremendously important. If you look around the country, as well, in terms of both unintended pregnancy, maternal mortality as a result of unsafe abortion, it’s critical that the US get back to the table with the rest of the world and fund international family planning. This has been a very good sign from the administration. It’s wonderful, frankly, to have a White House that cares about women’s health over ideology. And I think that’s what that decision reflects.

AMY GOODMAN: The latest news, just came out, morning-after pill will be given out on military bases. Can you talk about the whole course of this and how it came to be?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, this has been — there has been a sort of longstanding effort to make sure that emergency contraception or the morning-after pill is available both in pharmacies and now, of course, as you’re saying, in military hospitals. It’s a very important form of contraception. Again, under the Bush administration, it was very difficult to get it approved, and then to get it approved for over-the-counter distribution. So this is just an ongoing effort, again, to make contraception — we’re not even talking about abortion, we’re talking about contraception — available to women in this country and now women in the military. It’s a wonderful — it’s a wonderful achievement.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And on another issue, the recent conviction of the murderer of Dr. George Tiller, your reaction and the kind of signal that you think it sends?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, there is no way to fully do justice in that case, of course. Dr. Tiller was an important medical provider to many women and families around the country. But I think the decision by the jury in Kansas convicting his murderer was the right one, obviously. And I think it sent an important signal, that regardless of someone’s own political beliefs around abortion, that it is not an excuse, it does not condone or excuse any kind of violence, and particularly murder.

You know, it’s been very chilling. I think we have seen an increase in right-wing harassment of women at clinics, and I hope that that — the sign in Kansas will be clear to people that this is not tolerated in the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the healthcare bill. Can you talk about where the Stupak amendment stands — that’s the House — what‘s happening in the Senate, and your overall — your overall feelings about the bill at this point?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, of course, right now the bill seems to be pretty much on hold. We at Planned Parenthood worked very hard to ensure that the Stupak amendment, which was of course the amendment that would have banned all abortions in private healthcare plans, was kept out of the Senate bill. And there was a very important victory there. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voted against it, spoke out against it on the floor. So, of course, our commitment is that the final bill, whenever this shall — comes to pass, that there is — that the Stupak amendment is not in the final bill. And I think we have a very good chance of that happening. I think it’s very clear we had an outpouring of people around the country in outrage that they would even consider banning abortion for women in private healthcare coverage.

AMY GOODMAN: And how is Planned Parenthood dealing with the overall bill? Are you lobbying around it?

CECILE RICHARDS: We’ve been working — well, we, as many others, have been working for the last year to get healthcare reform passed. We think it’s critical. You know, we see three million patients every year, primarily low-income women. There are ten million more women who need reproductive healthcare services that are affordable. So we feel like it’s very important to get a healthcare bill, and we’re pushing very hard for a final bill, but one that protects women’s rights and advances women’s health.

AMY GOODMAN: If it doesn’t, will you support the bill?

CECILE RICHARDS: You know, we — there’s no way to predict exactly what that bill will be, but we’ve taken a very strong position against any bill that contains an abortion ban or contains the Stupak amendment. We feel like it’s very important that we stand for the women that come to see us, and they’re counting on us to stand up for them in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Cecile Richards, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood. When we come back, Dave Zirin will continue with us on a number of issues in sports. The Vancouver Olympics are coming up next week. We’ll also talk about that.


AMY GOODMAN: By the way, that study on abstinence, it came out of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. John Jemmott, and it was published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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