NARAL tweets on Doritos Super Bowl ad: This is how abortion politics works

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Screenshot of Doritos Super Bowl advertisement.

Screenshot of Doritos Super Bowl advertisement.

Video courtesy of Doritos Baby via YouTube

Last night, NARAL Pro-choice America (NARAL) went on an “angry Superbowl tweetstorm” (to use Politico’s headline). The kerfuffle following its critique of Doritos’ sonogram ad was another reminder of why abortion politics is so contentious and difficult to cover fairly.

The ad featured a couple at an ultrasound appointment. The father is eating Doritos, which upsets the mother. The baby, however, also likes Doritos and wants a chip, too. You can watch the ad. Here’s NARAL’s take in 140 characters or less:

Say what you will about the ad for overly-flavored-quasi-nacho chips, I don’t think they were “using #antichoice tactic of humanizing fetuses.” Personally, I don’t think anyone in the ad is humanized. I find the comment on sexist tropes on point. But to see an anti-choice tactic in the ad? Don’t give Doritos that much credit.

This is the state of abortion politics. Both sides see it as battle of good-vs-evil. One side sees themselves in Schindler’s List; the other sees America sliding into The Handmaid’s Tale. Every word and deed is used to mark which side is winning. Both sides are in a trench war battling over inches. With public opinion and constitutional law settled, each side fights over anything that could change the battlefield.

I came to this realization in 2011 when I covered the debate over “Protect Life Act.” The Affordable Care Act had recently been passed, but Republicans had then taken control of Congress. The bill would change how hospitals receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding treat women needing an emergency abortion. The law required that the hospital conduct the abortion or transfer the woman to a hospital who would do so. The Protect Life Act removed this requirement, meaning that hospitals would not be required to provide abortion services or transfer women.


RELATED STORY: Should men be able to ‘veto’ abortion decisions? Why you should expect most Americans to agree


You can imagine the heated response. How could anyone justify not providing a woman with an emergency procedure? Or even taking the woman to another facility?

Screenshot of Doritos Super Bowl advertisement.

Screenshot of Doritos Super Bowl advertisement.

But in my interviews with activists on both sides, a strange fact emerged: neither side could tell me of any case in which a hospital had to conduct an emergency abortion. In fact, no one could think of a situation in which an abortion would be required as an emergency procedure. A woman may choose to terminate her pregnancy for health reasons (including a severe health crisis), but I couldn’t get anyone to explain a case in which it has been or would be necessary to conduct an abortion in an emergency room.

Maybe there is a medical situation in which a pregnancy could not be stabilized until later. Maybe not. The problem was that neither side could provide an example of one at the time.

I’m not criticizing one side; I’m criticizing both sides of the debate. This was a fight over a hypothetical that did not exist. Moreover, both sides acknowledged that it didn’t exist. But if one side did anything to move the battle line, the other side fought back. The best explanation either side could give me was that a change in the law could be used as a precedent for the next fight or two or ten fights later.


RELATED STORY: Do pro-lifers oppose gun control? Trevor Noah is only half-right


That experience shapes how I view debates over a tweet about snack food. NARAL sees it as an opportunity to fight back against an “#antichoice tactic” and then pro-life groups seize upon the opportunity to employ that tactic. And while they’re at it, slam NARAL for not seeing a fetus as human.

It also shapes how I write about abortion. Just a few paragraphs above I used the word “father” and “mother.” But are they really a father and mother if they baby isn’t born yet? If not, then what are they? “Father-to-be” and “mother-to-be”? Just “husband” and “wife” (since he’s wearing a wedding ring)? Research shows that these word choices are important to activists, but they make little difference on average people. But choose the wrong word and expect activists on either side will let you know why you’re biased against the side of right.

The politics surrounding abortion isn’t going to change, but allow me to be a little pollyannish. There were two ads that NARAL liked that I hope both sides can embrace.

The first is the Super Bowl babies ads. Babies. Both sides can agree on that, right?

Next, domestic violence. The Super Bowl results is often the worst evenings for violence against women. Both sides should agree to support women and end domestic violence.

I’m not holding my breath—the realist in me knows that all of the attention will be on NARAL’s response to Doritos. That’s how abortion politics works for both sides.

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  • John W

    Problem with this kind of moral equivalence is that it seems to assume that justice must be halfway between the poilceman & the criminal.

    In reality this *is* Schindler’s List so everybody better decide which side they are on.

  • Deacon John M Bresnahan

    About being half-way moral. Didn’t Christ equate luke warmness with vomit??

  • Christopher W. Chase

    I think Prof. Grant may have fallen victim to the prevalent urban myth that Super Bowl Sunday is somehow associated more than other days with an increase in domestic violence. That claim has been debunked for years. If any particular times appear to see an increase in domestic abuse, its around times when there are breaks in the public school calendar : http://tinyurl.com/hvj6yte

  • Junkie

    This is one of the most sensible things I’ve ever seen written about the so-called abortion debate, which in these United States is more like a senseless shouting match. I apologize, I know it is not customary to write moderate, sane non knee-jerk things in comments, but I was just surprised at how right this is.

  • Jack

    NARAL’s reaction to the ad says a lot more about it than about the ad or its creators. T

  • yoh

    So all women must come to you for guidance as to their personal decisions. They obviously don’t know any better and must defer to your presumed alleged moral superiority.

    You can’t support an anti abortion stance without some mind of declaration that the lives of women don’t matter or are just worthless in your eyes. Self righteous garbage. 113

  • yoh

    Yeah, they are a little touchy after a bunch of self-righteous liars decided to put out a phony video to pretend abortion providers sell body parts for profit. Couple that with a bunch of people murdered because a crazy guy with a gun was inspired by said videos. Then throw on a bunch of witch hunt state actions against abortion providers despite the fact that a congressional hearing full of rabid fetushists could not find evidence of wrongdoing.

    Yeah NARAL is a bit oversensitive these days. Who can blame them with the kind of nonsense they have to put up with.

  • yoh

    So what do Christians say about morality?

    Anything is considered moral if you are doing it in the name of the Lord. Any kind of lies, theft, murder, attacks on others of any kind. You won’t find that in anything Jesus said, but its not like your average Christian pays attention to that anyway.

  • Jack

    Don’t be ridiculous. It was an ad for corn chips with some humor about ultrasounds. It’s very popular these days for pregnant women to look at ultrasounds so the doctor can show how the baby is progressing. What was depicted was a very typical scene that millions of expectant couples go through all the time.

    It is not Dorito’s problem that this presents an obvious problem for extremist ideological organizations like NARAL. It’s NARAL’s zealotry and Hitler-in-the-bunker denial of reality that has backed itself into an impossible corner. The world is not going to bend and twist reality to accommodate its bug-eyed fanaticism.

  • Jack

    Nice try, yoh, in trying to make abortion into a gender issue, but you fail because you run into a brick wall of millions of pro-life women who want pro-life men to speak out, just as there are millions of pro-choice women who want pro-choice men to do likewise.

    Whether you like it or not, abortion is an issue that involves both genders and the tactics of both pro-life and pro-choice female activists in seeking male support proves the point rather nicely.

  • Greg

    Abortion kills human beings. You are by definition in favor of people being allowed to kill each other – and even worse, kill those they created. That is beyond immoral.

  • Paul Romano

    Tobin,
    Thanks for your take on abortion politics. The trench warfare word pictures are strong.
    We all know NARAL jumped the shark here in their abhorrent love of dead babies.
    When their worldview filter is so strongly opposed to a chip commercial, it’s easy for all to identify the real radicals. Their tweets were trying to intimidate other advertisers in the future from using ultrasound images.

  • MarkE

    Come on, people! It was an ad for snack food during a football game! To put all this angst and import on a Doritos commercial is idiocy. Think back a year or two, who was wringing their hands over the ricocheting Doritos in the laundrymat that defied all the established rules of physics? As the kids used to say, everybody take a chill pill!