Saturday, August 30, 2008

In further jet-lagged bloggery

(Woke up at 6:40am, a two-hour improvement on yesterday!)

Being out of the country for over two weeks made it more difficult to follow American politics. You put on the TV, and that's not on. The only story reported in much detail was the one about Texan schoolteachers coming to class armed. (I could, however, tell you things I bet you never knew about the Belgian Olympic team; soap operas in Flemish dialects that are subtitled for other Flemings; and the pseudopornographic strangeness that is Dutch television). So now I'm catching up.

I was super excited to see that Michael Palin was McCain's pick for VP. It seemed a good choice--Palin, born in 1943, is a toddler compared to the candidate, and was one of the better Pythons. A millisecond later I realized my mistake.

The problem with the Palin he did pick is, I think, straightforward. Her pro-life stance is central to her image--all many know about her at this point. That's not the problem, though, since many people, including John McCain, think that's a good thing. It's that we're supposed to be sympathetic to Palin's views, even if we are ourselves pro-choice, because she 'walks the walk,' that is, because she knew her fifth child would be born with Down Syndrome, but had the baby anyway. She isn't just pro-life, she lives pro-life.

So here's the problem: Palin's decision not to abort has been presented as heroic. Who, in her shoes, would have been so brave, so compassionate? Well, that's half of the story. Pro-lifers see it as heroic, while pro-choicers, deep down, see it as of course her choice to have made, but nevertheless not the one they (we) would probably make in that situation. Which is to say that no one, not pro-lifers or pro-choicers, thinks her decision was normal. If having not terminated her pregnancy is a part of what makes her stand out as a candidate, part of her compelling biography, then we all acknowledge that having an abortion would have been the default option. And if only the exceptional woman would act as Palin did, then that's devastating to the case for making abortion illegal across the board. The law does not typically obligate acts of unusual selflessness, which is precisely how pro-lifers understand Palin's choice.

9 comments:

Withywindle said...

The choice to keep a Downs syndrome baby is far more frequent than you think. You also exclude those who find themselves unwittingly with a baby they might have aborted for whatever reason, discover how much they love said baby, and realize how grossly evil their default choice would have been. There are also those who have committed abortion while thinking they did wrong, and admire those with better character than they had. Finally, there is there is the large chunk of the country neither pro-choice nor pro-life, muddled, incoherent, not thinking about the issue at all, but who when presented with Sarah Palin's choice and life, will rather admire it. But, no, Palin won't appeal to the commitedly pro-choice. Few to none would have voted for McCain anyway.

Phoebe said...

"The choice to keep a Downs syndrome baby is far more frequent than you think."

Everywhere I've seen, the figure's about 10%. So what I think is, I believe, based on the numbers.

You don't seem to address the question of how, the more we view Palin as a heroine, the less pro-life we are, whichever of the categories you mention we fall into. That we see her (and the rest of her 10%) as heroic means that we see the other 90% as having made a normal if upsetting decision, not an evil one.

Withywindle said...

I'm not sure the view is Palin, Heroine, but Palin, Good Woman Made Very Visible--whose visibility makes such good choices more likely.

There's no essential dichotomy between "normal" and "evil."

Anonymous said...

It surprises me that anyone as antagonistic toward abortion as Palin would have undergone prenatal medical tests in the first place. The fact that she did suggests she may have wanted to keep her options open. Perhaps there were genetic disorders--worse than Down syndrome-- even she would have considered unacceptable.
--EH

Miss Self-Important said...

Isn't it actually a non-act of unusual selflessness? Abortion is the act, insofar as it's a purposeful disruption of the natural course of carrying a child to term. The law obligates a lot of non-acts of selflessness, like not stealing other people's stuff when they're not looking. If we took a survey and found that the majority would steal other people's stuff given the chance, that still wouldn't be a compelling reason to make theft legal.

Phoebe said...

I'm not sure about the act-non-act distinction here. She knew of the greater risks of pregnancy at her age, so the real non-act would have been not getting pregnant in the first place.

As for surveys, isn't the better analogy about surveying people to see not if they would steal, but if they think stealing's wrong?

Withywindle said...

Contraception is also an action.

Phoebe said...

It's all action, having sex or not, using contraception or not, marrying or not, carrying a fetus to term or not. We're not (mere) animals, so all of these are decisions people make. There's no default, unless we're talking biologically, in which case there'd be a whole lot more action among 13-year-olds than is currently the case.

Andrew Stevens said...

It's actually 16% who keep Down's Syndrome babies and I don't know if I'd call one in six unusually selfless, but you make an excellent point nonetheless.

EH - The prenatal screens aren't done solely to determine if a woman should abort. They are done to determine any complications that might arise from the pregnancy and are done routinely on expectant mothers over the age of 35 (or for other reasons).