The Tebow ad

Football fans might be more interested in pass receptions than contraception on Super Bowl Sunday, but no matter: Because of a controversial decision by CBS, they’ll be presented with an antiabortion commercial sponsored by the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family during Sunday’s matchup.

The move by CBS has infuriated abortion-rights activists, prompting the New York-based Women’s Media Center to organize a petition drive urging the network to cancel the ad. That’s a shame, and CBS is to be congratulated for standing up to the pressure. We’re solidly for abortion rights, but the campaign against the ad is a misguided attempt at censorship.

Details are scarce, but the commercial reportedly will feature Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, and will relate the story behind Tebow’s birth. Pam Tebow says she was on a missionary trip to the Philippines in 1987 when she became seriously ill and doctors urged her to abort her fifth child. She opted to ignore them, and survived to deliver a son who grew up to become the University of Florida football star.

It’s obviously reckless to imply that women should risk their own lives for the sake of a fetus, but there’s no law saying advocacy ads have to preach responsible policies. What really seems to irk the Women’s Media Center is the appearance of uneven treatment by CBS. In 2004, the network rejected a Super Bowl ad submitted by the United Church of Christ implying the church was more accepting of homosexuals and minorities than other denominations. That was in keeping with a network policy forbidding advocacy ads on issues that attracted substantial community disagreement.

Such a standard certainly would apply to the Focus on the Family commercial, but CBS executives say they have reconsidered their policy and now welcome advocacy ads during the coveted Super Bowl broadcast. As long as the network applies this policy fairly to groups across the political spectrum, it’s a sensible move. There’s nothing in Federal Communications Commission rules to bar such commercials, and advocacy groups have as much right to distribute their messages as corporate advertisers.

Some football fans will be offended by an antiabortion commercial during the Super Bowl, or at least annoyed at having a battle ax from the culture wars hurled through their TV sets while they’re trying to enjoy the game. They’re free to choose to get up and get a beverage when the ad comes on -- just as, thankfully, American women are still free to choose whether to be mothers.