College football phenom Tim Tebow is about to become one of the biggest stars of Super Bowl XLIV — and he's not even playing in the game.
Tebow, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for the University of Florida, and his mother Pam will appear in a pro-life commercial that tells the story of his risky birth 22 years ago -- an ad that critics suggest could lead to anti-abortion violence, even though none of them have seen it.
The 30-second spot, paid for by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, is expected to recount the story of Pam Tebow's turbulent pregnancy in 1987:
When Tebow suffered from a dangerous infection during a mission trip to the Philippines, doctors recommended that she terminate her pregnancy, fearing she might die in childbirth. But she carried Tim to term, and he went on to win the 2007 Heisman Trophy and guide the Florida Gators to two BCS championships.
It's a happy story with an inspirational ending, but pro-choice critics say Focus on the Family should not be allowed to air the commercial because it advocates on behalf of a divisive issue and threatens to "throw women under the bus."
"This organization is extremely intolerant and divisive and pushing an un-American agenda," said Jehmu Greene, director of the Women's Media Center, which is coordinating a campaign to force CBS to pull the ad before it airs on Feb. 7.
"Abortion is very controversial, and the anti-abortion vitriol has resulted in escalated violence against reproductive health providers and their patients," Greene said. "We've seen that clearly with the murder of Dr. George Tiller," the late-term abortion provider who was gunned down in his Kansas church in May 2009.
But Gary Schneeberger, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, defended the ad and said it will stand out on Super Bowl Sunday because its content is original and family-friendly.
"We're not trying to sell folks a big-screen TV, we're not trying to sell them a soft drink, we're not trying to sell them a Web domain name. We're not trying to sell anything — we're celebrating families," he told FoxNews.com.
"Some people will be surprised when they see the actual content of the ad. It's anything but the way it's been described with that fiery rhetoric."
Attacks on the ad, which has been seen by only a handful of people, are mounting. The Women's Media Center is coordinating a campaign with the National Organization for Women and other women's groups to launch an online petition and letter-writing campaign targeting CBS. Another petition set up on Jan. 22 has garnered over 8,000 signatures.
So has the fearless Gator bitten off more than he can chew? Tebow addressed the controversy while chatting with reporters in Alabama on Sunday, explaining his opposition to abortion.
"I know some people won't agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe," he said. "[T]hat's the reason I'm here, because my mom was a very courageous woman. So any way that I could help, I would do it."
Tebow, who is known for wearing references to Bible verses in his eye black, was home-schooled until college by his parents, who lead an Evangelical ministry in Florida. Tebow was born in the Philippines while his parents were on a mission and frequently joins his father, an ordained pastor, on mission trips there.
Next month may mark the first time NOW has had to tackle a Heisman winner. The group typically tracks Super Bowl ads for signs of sexism, not for religious or political content.
Greene, of the Women's Media Center, says CBS should simply follow its own example and ban advocacy ads from its airwaves.
"CBS has a very long history of prohibiting advocacy ads that it deems controversial," she said, listing banned commercials from PETA, MoveOn.org and the United Church of Christ. "We are calling them out for the hypocrisy and bias in making the decision to air an ad that clearly is on a controversial issue."
But CBS isn't backing down. The network, which has aired ads on heated topics like health care and climate change, released a statement saying, "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."