Scott Roeder, Focus on the Family and the Super Bowl

By Erin Matson, NOW Action Vice President

Let’s be clear: Focus on the Family would not spend upwards of $2.5 million on an anti-abortion rights ad for the sole purpose of celebrating one woman’s story.

Focus on the Family is pouring money into the Super Bowl in order to create a climate in which it’s possible to overturn Roe v. Wade, which recognized women’s fundamental right to abortion under the Constitution. The question is, short of pursuing political and/or judicial paths to end safe and legal abortion for the one of three women in this country who has them, just how far is Focus on the Family willing to go?

Too far. Far too far.

The 37th anniversary of the Roe decision took place just days after CBS violated its own policy of turning down socially controversial ads to accept Focus on the Family’s anti-abortion rights spot (suspiciously, CBS would later announce a change in policy after accepting the ad). Jan. 22 was also the opening day of Scott Roeder’s trial for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas. NOW, Feminist Majority, National Abortion Federation, and others tracking anti-abortion violence recognize Dr. Tiller’s murder as domestic terrorism.

Taking the stand, Roeder would go on to explain in detail how frustrated he had grown with politicians who made promises but did not end legal abortion. Referring to Dr. Tiller, he said “I’ve been planning to kill him since 1999.”

Outside the courthouse, anti-abortion rights extremist Randall Terry stood with three others protesting Roeder’s trial. Their signs read: “GIVE ROEDER A FAIR TRIAL!” “ROEDER’S REASON: THE BABIES” and “TILLER KILLED 60,000 CHILDREN!!” The jury rejected these arguments and convicted Roeder of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault on Jan. 29 after less than 40 minutes of deliberation.

On May 31, 2009, the day Roeder murdered Dr. Tiller in his own church, Randall Terry said, “George Tiller was a murderer … Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices, their homes, and yes, even their churches.”

What does this have to do with Focus on the Family (and, by extension, the Super Bowl)? Sadly, everything. Focus on the Family endorses some of Randall Terry’s tactics, including illegally blocking clinic entrances, and justifies that in words virtually indistinguishable from those endorsing the murder of Dr. Tiller.

From Focus on the Family’s Web site (these are the words of founder and chair emeritus Dr. James Dobson):

It is true that we Christians are instructed in Scripture to obey civil laws and those in authority over us. But we are also commanded to “rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11). Remember, too, that the apostle Paul and other early Christian leaders disobeyed laws and orders requiring them to remain silent about the teachings of Jesus. There are other biblical examples of godly men and women, including Daniel in ancient Babylon, who refused to obey unjust laws that contradicted their beliefs. Obviously, there are times when we are expected to resist civil authority. Applying that understanding of Scripture to the abortion movement, we must ask, “Is this such an occasion?” A better question is, Do we believe our own rhetoric about the unborn child? Are the abortionists killing babies or aren’t they? If 1.5 million infants are being murdered in the United States every year, how can we stand around debating whether or not it is appropriate to oppose the laws that permit their slaughter? To illustrate the point, suppose the euthanasia movement catches on in days ahead, making it legal for parents to decide whether or not they wish to continue raising their children. Suppose they could take any child under five years of age to a “Life Clinic,” where the boy or girl could be put to sleep. Suppose children were walking in the front door of clinics and going out the back in coffins. If such a horrible day ever dawned, what do you think the response of Christians would be? Would they thumb carefully through the pages of Scripture to find justification for their civil disobedience? Of course not! The moral issue would be so clear that trespassing to prevent the killing would be of no relevance. The murdering of innocent children would be so abhorrent to what we know of God’s nature that many of us would give our lives to rescue the little ones. In a very real sense, we are confronted by that same issue today. We are killing babies, although we can’t see them or wrap our arms around them. I simply do not understand why some Christian leaders, whom I respect, continue to split hairs over subtle scriptural understandings, wondering whether there is a real difference between Daniel’s civil disobedience and the insignificant act of trespassing by today’s rescuers. To those Christians who feel prohibited from stepping across a property line to save a baby, I would ask, How would you have responded to the slavery issue in the mid-1800s? Would you have harbored a runaway slave who sought sanctuary from his or her “master”? What would you have done as a citizen of Germany in World War II? The Nazi extermination camps were legal. Would you have broken your country’s unjust laws in order to protect millions of people marked for death? Was Corrie ten Boom’s father in violation of Scripture for protecting Jews from the murderers in the SS? Certainly not! Nor are “rescue” participants in violation of any moral law, in my opinion. They seek to prevent violence against a powerless minority, and that is a principle supported throughout Scripture.

As far as its view on ending abortion rights is concerned, Focus on the Family is almost as extreme as it gets: going beyond legal strategies to endorse, even encourage, its followers to break the law in order to shut down women’s health clinics that offer abortion.

The $2+ million Super Bowl ad is just a new tactic in Focus on the Family’s longstanding campaign. While purporting to show the softer side of Focus on the Family, in fact this ad’s big idea is to declare that women who have an abortion are guilty of a terrible mistake — a statement that is rarely true, given those women’s opinions.

Is NOW against one woman’s fully informed, freely chosen family planning decision? Absolutely not. NOW fights for every woman to have access to comprehensive resources that support her own reproductive decisions, whatever they may be. Focus on the Family is fighting against that principle with this ad.

Is NOW anti-free speech or promoting censorship? Absolutely not. We came out in protest of this ad when it was a clear cut-and-dry case of CBS violating its own policy. And, regardless of the about-face new policy CBS announced after we first began our protest, we still believe this ad should be pulled. CBS has already rejected multiple ads for Super Bowl Sunday.

Please let CBS know you don’t want an extremist organization like Focus on the Family coming into your living room this Sunday in an attempt to undermine abortion rights.

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