Randall Terry is running graphic anti-abortion ads during Super Bowl
Blogger stoked Terry's ire asking readers to donate for abortion rights when Tim Tebow scored
Threats of death prompted blogger Sophia Brugato to report hate mail to the FBI
Abortion critic defends Terry's right to air ads, but says Super Bowl should be for "family fun"
It was tongue in cheek, blogger Sophia Brugato said, because let’s be honest: Tim Tebow, for all his athletic attributes, isn’t the biggest scorer.
A sports buff who typically writes about basketball and women’s issues, Brugato didn’t expect her quip to be taken so seriously that death threats would follow, that the national media would look up from elections or that ads featuring aborted fetuses would air during the Super Bowl on February 5.
Brugato sparked the firestorm when she asked her fellow supporters of abortion rights to kick some cash to the cause when the Denver Broncos quarterback scored. The long-shot presidential candidate now funding the Super Bowl ads was incensed she would invoke Tebow, an adoptee of the Christian right, in a pro-choice campaign and considered her column a call to murder.
“She was raising money to kill babies, and we’re raising money to save them. Fight fire with fire,” said lifelong Republican and anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, who in January 2011 put his name on the Democratic ticket in several states, which would ensure he could air the graphic ads during election season.
Section 315 of the FCC Telecommunications Act says stations must air ads for candidates for federal office and are prohibited from altering the content. That means they can’t refuse to run political ads even if the ads contain material the stations would ordinarily reject.
Terry said Friday he had already purchased air time in 13 markets with upcoming primaries: eight during pregame and five that will air in Ada, Oklahoma; Grand Junction, Colorado; Paducah, Kentucky; and Joplin and Springfield, Missouri, during the big game.
The markets were chosen based on where Terry felt the ads would have the most impact.
“(President Barack) Obama is going to carry California if he’s found with foreign children in the Lincoln Bedroom, and the GOP will carry Texas if it’s found that the nominee owns a brothel,” Terry said.
‘Enemy outside your gate’
Obama and the evangelicals and Catholics who voted for him in 2008 are the main targets of Terry’s ad, but David Lewis, who is vying for Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s Ohio seat, and Angela Michael, who is challenging Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, are running similar ads in their districts.
Terry said he considers both GOP incumbents enemies of his cause because of their stands on the abortion issue and “an enemy outside your gate makes you vigilant; an enemy inside your gate can make you dead.”
He estimated he has raised about $40,000 so far and, ideally, would like to see the ads air in more than two dozen cities spanning seven states.
Brugato didn’t foresee the backlash. The whole mess began because while she enjoyed the underdog quarterback story that consumed the sports world before the Broncos were dispatched from the playoffs on January 14, Tebow’s stance on abortion made her uncomfortable.
Particularly unnerving was a Focus on the Family commercial two years ago in which Tebow’s mother, Pam, said she had ignored a doctor’s recommendation to abort the future Heisman Trophy winner to save her own life. The irony, Brugato said, is that Pam Tebow was given a choice.
Brugato made her inner conflict the theme of a December 13 column on the Abortion Gang website, which calls its writers “unapologetic activists for reproductive justice.”
“How can I support a guy that’s openly anti-choice?” she wrote. “This is the same man that used the Super Bowl to a) build his reputation and brand as the saintliest saint of an athlete that ever lived, and b) raise money for an anti-choice organization that would deny the right to abortion to millions of women that need it. Yuck.”
As part of her missive, she created a #10forTebow hashtag on Twitter and urged her readers to donate $10 to a pro-choice group every time Tebow tossed a touchdown.
“It was more, ‘This guy’s at the forefront of pop culture and let’s remind everyone he’s a great football player, but he’s anti-choice,’ ” she said. “(The call for donations) was a random thought that kind of came into my mind, and I just put it out there knowing he wasn’t going to do a lot of scoring – and it just took off from there.”
Hate mail rolled in, and not the normal hate mail to which she was accustomed as a commentator on women’s issues and her beloved Portland Trail Blazers basketball team. There were calls for her death – one asserting she should have been aborted herself – and threats of rape.
It was “disturbing enough to have to forward it to the FBI,” Brugato said.
Pregnant teen opts against abortion
The 26-year-old Portland State University student even had a chat with her 7-year-old son, not only about the importance of protecting yourself on the Internet, but also about why mom should “stand up for people without a voice,” she said.
Brugato’s experience as a mother gives her an interesting perspective on abortion. Pregnant as a senior in high school, she went to Planned Parenthood for testing and counseling.
Just 18, she was “harboring illusions about adulthood” and didn’t appreciate the responsibilities or financial obligations that came with being a parent. Having a child seemed romantic, but she said Planned Parenthood helped her understand the seriousness of the situation and laid out her options.
Her parents, who were upset, and the teachers at her Catholic high school, who were pushing for adoption, offered support. Ultimately, she decided on motherhood.
Despite the vicious responses to her Abortion Gang column, Brugato said she has received ample support. Portland is considered fairly liberal, and folks around town and campus have offered encouragement. Many people wrote her to say they had donated to abortion rights groups.
But others co-opted her hashtag, calling on abortion opponents to donate $10 to a pro-life organization each time Tebow put up six.
Then there was Terry, who took Brugato’s words personally and lashed out.
Terry, who has been arrested almost 50 times while protesting, is no stranger to political theatrics. In 2009, he donned a doctor’s scrubs and lab coat and stood outside then-Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd’s Charleston, West Virginia, office with a man dressed as Obama, who handed him plastic babies. Terry stabbed each one with a scalpel and tossed it over his shoulder. He also mimicked stabbing an elderly woman to register his opposition to the administration’s health care package, which some critics argue promotes euthanasia.
“We’re trying to jolt people back into reality,” he said at the time.
After Brugato’s column last month, Terry wrote a letter to his “pro-life, Christian friends,” that said the blogger’s “despicable challenge has the ring of a horror film: ‘Every time you do something good, we will kill an innocent person.’ “
He further called Brugato a child killer and implored, “Let’s make them rue the day they attacked Tim Tebow because of his Christian faith and because of his pro-life ad that he ran in the Super Bowl of 2010 by showing pro-life ads in Super Bowl 2012 that grab the attention of the nation.”
Love it or hate it
Brugato was shocked by the letter’s tone and was concerned that “some of the language was meant as a dog whistle to the more extreme anti-abortion folks out there.”
She was even more disturbed by the ads that Terry’s campaign had produced, including one that likened abortion to civil rights atrocities and the Holocaust.
“It’s just so offensive. It’s going to offend more people than it will bring to his cause,” she said.
The planned Super Bowl ad begins with a brief warning imposed over Obama’s face before Terry says, “Abortion is murder. The innocent blood of 50 million babies cries out to God from our sewers and landfills. We must make it a crime to murder them, or heaven will judge America.”
Claiming Christians who vote for Obama “have blood on their hands,” the ad features several unsettling images, including two fetuses curled up inside a rosary and a headless fetus next to a crucifix. Another segment of the ad features a fetus’ arm lying on a dime.
Similar ads ran during the Iowa and New Hampshire GOP contests, the latter prompting CNN affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, to pre-emptively explain to its audience that it cannot edit the ad, “even if it is libelous, inflammatory or otherwise offensive to the community.”
As for the response in Iowa, Terry said, “What do you think? People were enraged or they loved it. There’s no middle ground.”
He makes no apologies for the ads’ disturbing content because “using these images is what’s required for peaceful political revolution.” He points to the results that disturbing images have historically had on wars, child slavery and the civil rights movement.
NARAL Pro-Choice America did not return messages seeking comment on the appropriateness of the images. Nor did Planned Parenthood, though a representative sent an e-mail containing information on two of Terry’s many arrests and some past inflammatory remarks.
Super Bowl the right audience?
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, endorses the ads, if not the venue. During their Face the Truth Tours, members of his group congregate at major intersections across the country holding aloft similar images of fetuses.
His group places people before the targeted intersection with warning signs so drivers can take alternate routes if they choose, Scheidler said. He knows the images are disturbing, and that’s the point: to emboss in someone’s mind a gruesome image of abortion in hopes that it affects their philosophy or advice to loved ones later.
“We don’t show these pictures to make friends or be popular,” he said, adding that while some people are moved by intellectual or religious arguments, “others will be persuaded by seeing for themselves the injustice.”
Scheidler said he hopes Terry’s Super Bowl tactic is successful, even if it isn’t one he’d embrace.
“I like to respect that time for family fun. There’s a time for families to have entertainment and not to be dealing with the grave issues of the day,” he said. “It’s not anything I would do, but I’m not going to say it’s wrong for Mr. Terry to do it.”
To those who label Terry an extremist, he welcomes the tag, saying “extremism is the essence of Christianity. … No successful social movements were moderate.”
He isn’t airing his ads solely to be controversial, he said. He’s wanted to be president since he was a boy, and though he doesn’t expect to beat Obama in the primary (the president took 98% of the vote in Iowa and out-dueled Terry 82%-1% in New Hampshire), Terry hopes that “by putting babies out front that that will break his back in the 2012 general election.”
“I’m looking to create the debate over whether a Christian can ethically vote for Obama,” he said. “I know that we will prevail. I know we will make it a crime to kill unborn babies.”