In the comments, Ben – who we can all agree should start his own blog ASAP – offers a thoughtful response to the last post:
Don’t you think a person can consistently hold that (1) under current law, abortion is a matter of individual choice; (2) as long as abortion is a matter of choice, there is a single right answer that women ought to choose; and (3) since many women nevertheless make the wrong choice (in this person’s view), and the harm of making the wrong choice is sufficiently great, the law should not leave abortion to individual choice? This constellation of beliefs would explain, without contradiction, feeling pride in another person’s choice not to have an abortion while supporting legislative measures to take the choice away from them. Similarly, “Choose Life at Yale” can consistently pursue a two-pronged agenda: (a) as a stopgap measure, advocating for women to exercise their choice under current law in a particular way, and (b) on the assumption that (a) will not be 100% successful, advocating for denying women the choice in the first place. In this way, Palin’s rhetoric about her daughter doesn’t seem different to me than a moral vegetarian’s both feeling pride in a child’s decision to be a vegetarian and favoring the criminalization of meat-eating.
Absolutely, I agree that it’s philosophically consistent (a) to want abortion/ animal cruelty/ awful haircuts banned and (b), for as long as the practice remains legal, to support/ admire people who choose against it. I think very few people, whatever the practice in question is, would maintain (a) and not (b). Lots of people, however, maintain (b) and not (a) (and not just on bad hair-cuts). That is, lots of Americans believe abortion is a choice that should be available but that should not be chosen. Others wouldn’t go so far as to say abortion is always the wrong choice, but will admire and be more comfortable with people who choose against it. These pro-choice voters who (whether always, or just usually) want people to choose life represent a huge chunk of our electorate. That’s the reality politicians on both sides of this issue face.
Fortunately for these “(b) but not (a)” voters, there are a lot of “(b) but not (a)” politicians out there. Depending on where you set the bar, you could count most pro-choice members of Congress in this group. So voters who are uncomfortable with abortion but don’t want it banned tend to have ample opportunity to vote for representatives who reflect their desire for abortion to be both legal and rare.
Anti-choice politicians need these voters to choose instead to vote for someone who shares their discomfort with abortion but not their opposition to banning it. There are different ways to do this: emphasizing abortion restrictions that these pro-choice voters may support and the pro-choice candidate does not, chipping away at the sincerity of the pro-choice candidate’s desire to reduce abortion, and more. Another is to shift the focus away not just from Roe v. Wade, but away from policy questions entirely, so that (b) is the only issue.
I say the way Palin talks about these issues is misleading not because I doubt that she and others maintain both (a) and (b) with conviction and consistency, but because (setting law-breaking aside) (b) is only an issue given her failure to achieve (a). And emphasizing (b) in the way Palin does regarding her daughter, and the way some of her admirers do in talking about Sarah’s choice to birth Trigg, obscures the most significant policy question here – abortion’s legality – while appealing not just to voters’ negative feelings about abortion but to their positive feelings about choice.
And when anti-choice politicians talk about their respecting their daughters’ choices – particularly when they are fathers like John McCain – it helps take the edge off their anti-choice politics by making them seem tolerant of the whole range of choices women make, even or perhaps especially when they cite their admiration for pro-life choices. I don’t have reason to doubt that John McCain or Sarah Palin would continue loving a daughter who chose abortion without throwing her out of the house. But if they had their way with the supreme court, those daughters could be thrown in jail. So I think non-coerciveness as parents is a distraction from coerciveness as politicians.
There’s also a class issue here, in that as long as abortion is legal but subject to the cocktail of restrictions anti-choice folks are pushing at the state and federal level, women from families like the Palins and the McCains can go on making their choices while those “small town voters” they vouch for have less and less choice to make.