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Is Sarah Palin right? Did feminist groups overthrow the Tebow ad attack?

Sarah Palin defended the Tim Tebow ad against abortion. Feminist groups objected to it, but attacking an ad that tells the story of a woman’s decision not to have an abortion could backfire.

By Staff writer / January 29, 2010

Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, makes her first appearance as a FOX News Channel contributor on 'The O'Reilly Factor' Jan. 12 in New York. Palin supports football quarterback Tim Tebow's antiabortion ad to be broadcast during the Super Bowl.

The Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor/AP

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The National Organization for Women is in full third-and-long mode, first demanding that CBS withdraw an antiabortion ad featuring ex-Florida QB Tim Tebow, and then going after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for calling the ad “pro-family” and “empowering [for] women.”

But while groups like NOW are attacking Mr. Tebow, CBS, and the conservative Focus on the Family organization that underwrote the ad, some pop culture experts are saying that feminist groups may have overreached in their reaction to an ad they haven’t actually seen.

“The protest against the Tebow ad is probably an enormous overreaction that probably did more to get Focus on the Family out into the public eye than it would have if they just let it be,” says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. At the least, he says, “there were miscalculations on the part of [abortion rights groups]. You always show your hand when you make a complaint about something you’ve never seen. That’s not an intelligent way to approach it.”

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In the past, Palin praised NOW

Ms. Palin, who during the 2008 election campaign failed to get support from many feminists despite her bid to become the first female vice president in US history, has in the past praised NOW for calling out advertisers and networks that air sexist portrayals of women. But this week, she called NOW's attack on the Tebow add "puzzling."

“My message to these groups who are inexplicably offended by a pro-woman, pro-child, pro-life message airing during the Super Bowl: please concentrate on empowering women, help with efforts to prevent unexpected pregnancies, stay consistent with your message that for too long women have been made to feel like sex objects in our ‘modern’ culture and that we can expect better in 2010,” Palin wrote on her much-watched Facebook page.

NOW President Terry O’Neill has insisted that Palin is “missing our point.” The real concern, abortion-rights groups say, is how the ad tilts the public atmosphere against women’s reproductive rights, and how its sponsor has a stance that is antigay and antiwomen’s rights.

Focus on the Family under fire

“The goal of the Focus on the Family ad is not to empower women,” Ms. O’Neill told Politico. “It's to create a climate in which Roe v. Wade can be overturned. Focus on the Family has cynically set it up so they can say anyone who disagrees with airing this ad is disrespecting one woman and her choice. NOW respects every woman's right to plan her own family and insists our laws do the same.”

To be sure, Tebow has received lots of criticism for agreeing to insert himself into Super Sunday – even as he struggled this week to make a good impression among NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl run-up.

But in the past few days, the strategy of abortion-rights groups has also come under scrutiny, particularly because the ad by itself isn’t likely to have much influence in the abortion debate.

“In fact, the complaints from NOW and other pro-choice/pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood are only succeeding in giving Tebow and other pro-life supporters more national attention for their cause,” writes Yael T. Abouhalkah for the liberal-leaning Kansas City Star’s editorial page.

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