The Plank

Is Sarah Palin (implicitly) Pro-choice?


WaPo's Ruth Marcus makes the case, drawing on a speech Palin gave at a pro-life dinner last week. Marcus quotes Palin at length, discussing her second thoughts at the discovery that she was pregnant at 44 and that her baby would have Down syndrome:

Oh, dear God, I knew, I had instantly an
understanding for that fleeting moment why someone would believe it
could seem possible to change those circumstances. Just make it all go
away and get some normalcy back in life. Just take care of it. Because
at the time only my doctor knew the results, Todd didn't even know. No
one would know....

So we went through some things a year ago that now
lets me understand a woman's, a girl's temptation to maybe try to make
it all go away if she has been influenced by society to believe that
she's not strong enough or smart enough or equipped enough or
convenienced enough to make the choice to let the child live. I do
understand what these women, what these girls go through in that
thought process.

Marcus then pounces, arguing that "if it were up to Palin, women would have no thought process to go
through. The 'good decision to choose life,' as she put it, would be no
decision at all, because abortion would not be an option."

This line of argument came up with Bristol Palin's choice to keep her baby, too--which Marcus cites as well--and has been raised in plenty of other contexts: How can pro-lifers praise the "choice" to bear a child, when they don't believe it should be a choice at all?

I'm sympathetic to the intent of this argument, but ultimately I don't think it holds water. There are, after all, plenty of situations in which we applaud someone for doing one thing, even as we believe the alternative should be unacceptable or even illegal.

Imagine someone who is genuinely hungry, or even has a hungry family, who finds himself walking past an unattended fruit stand. Just because we might applaud his decision not to steal an apple, it doesn't mean we think theft should be a legal option. Or to take an even more mundane case, picture someone who's driving to an appointment for which she is late: We could understand why she might be inclined to drive at dangerous speeds--and commend her decision not to do so--without thinking speed limits should be abolished.

The fact of the matter is that even in Palin's ideal pro-life world, many women would still have to make the difficult choice of whether or not to have an illegal abortion--just as in my theoretical examples, the hungry man would have to decide whether or not to steal and the tardy woman would have to decide whether or not to break the speed limit. Like Marcus, I prefer a world in which abortion is a legal option. The fact that Sarah Palin disagrees doesn't mean she would banish moral decisionmaking from the world, but rather that she would have the law place a heavy finger on the scale.--Christopher Orr

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