I’ve long argued (not here, but elsewhere) that despite legitimate concerns over how Canada’s legal vacuum on abortion came about, ours is the single most logically coherent way for any nation to allow its citizens freedom of choice. A fetus is a fetus, and subject to the choices of its host, until it’s entirely outside the mother, at which point it’s a human being. The other pro-choice frameworks out there in the world aren’t without virtue, but they suffer from arbitrariness. In Sweden, for example, restrictions kick in at the 12th week, well before any definition of fetal viability. Why 12? Ten’s an even nicer round number, surely. And in systems that bestow protection on fetuses at or around the point of viability, such as in the UK, the arbitrariness is revealed whenever gaggles of politicians, very few of whom are OB/GYNs, start campaigning to lower it.
Canada doesn’t mess around with any of that. And as Cynthia Gorney pointed out in a brilliant piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, neither does Sarah Palin. Her views, says Gorney, represent “abortion opposition at its most coherent.”
If a fetus is genuinely a child from the instant of conception, then the law can’t permit killing it for any reason except the extraordinary circumstance of an emergency to save a woman’s life (and in some right-to-life circles there’s argument about that, too, or whether equal measures should be taken to save woman and unborn alike).
The problem is, coherence and the abortion debate don’t get along that well. And even as Palin hauls social conservatives aboard the McCain train, it’s not much in the GOP’s best interests for people to start thinking about how her position fits into the party’s mainstream pro-life stance.
[Her views differ] not only from McCain and George W. Bush but also from a long list of other politicians, many Republican and some Democratic, whose records make them look anti-abortion while their hearts don’t seem to be in it. If that makes Palin “extreme,” according to the view from the trenches, fine—about time a pro-life candidate stood up and made it clear that keeping any abortions legal blows up the central right-to-life premise. If you take the Bush/McCain position—abortion should be illegal but with exceptions for rape and incest pregnancies—then you’re saying the fetus is not a child if the woman was forced into sex, but is a child if she participated voluntarily. That doesn’t actually make any sense, which is why for 35 years now this country’s most dedicated abortion opponents have been essentially holding their noses as they accept as allies the rape-and-incest-exception people, the restrict-but-don’t-prohibit people, the overturn-Roe-and-let-the-states-decide people. In the midst of all that moral compromise, Palin appears to have backbone.
All that coherence and backbone supports a position that’s totally impracticable, and many Americans understandably find its implications for women barbaric. But that’s what makes Gorney’s point so interesting. If you call yourself pro-life but think abortion should be allowed for rape victims—if you think the girl in the video below should be allowed to have an abortion—then maybe you aren’t really pro-life at all. Maybe you’re just confused, like everybody else.