A Private Matter — for Everyone
Here is what we have gotten with John McCain’s vice presidential selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, picked in part for her extreme anti-abortion credentials: an exquisite endorsement of the pro-choice argument.
Seventeen-year-old Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is, according to the talking points uttered incessantly by Republicans, a private family matter in which it is paramount that the teenager and those closest to her choose the course her life will now take. In the Palin family choice, this means a quick marriage to the child’s teenage father and, with luck and fortitude, a (mostly) happily-ever-after future.
President Bush “believes that this is a private family matter,” says White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The talking points circulated at the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., are in remarkable concurrence: “This is a very personal matter for the family,” a suggested script distributed to delegates and leaked to the press says.
No pro-choice activist could say it better.
For years, those who strive to keep abortion as a legal and safe option for women and girls who are confronted with unplanned pregnancies — as well as pregnancies that go terribly awry medically — have argued precisely this point.
The decision on what to do about such matters should be left to a woman, her doctor, her family and her God. No one — absolutely no one — who supports keeping abortion legal would interfere in any way with Bristol Palin’s decision to carry her pregnancy to term. In fact, organizations such as Planned Parenthood would provide her with proper prenatal care if she needed it.
But some believe that subjects such as a teenager’s sex life, a rape victim’s traumatic pregnancy or even a married woman’s right to get her birth control prescription filled should be decided not in the privacy of family conversation but in the cacophony of politics.
Who are these cruelly intrusive people? Those in the anti-abortion movement.
Sarah Palin is an iconic figure to the most extreme elements of that movement. She has said she opposes abortion in every instance except those in which there is “a doctor’s determination that the mother’s life would end if the pregnancy continued,” according to a questionnaire for the conservative Eagle Forum that she answered during her 2006 gubernatorial campaign.
Palin would demand that a rape victim carry her rapist’s child to term. A married woman whose husband beats her blue would be required to deliver his child. So would an impoverished mother who can barely feed those already in her care. And so would a woman undergoing chemotherapy, or one whose health is threatened by any disease or chronic condition. She, too, would have to carry a pregnancy to term unless it literally would kill her.
In the name of protecting fetuses at every stage — even before implantation in the uterus, the point when doctors agree that a pregnancy begins — anti-abortion radicals have blockaded and firebombed clinics. Activists have applauded inquisitors who’ve sought to rummage through the medical files of women who have had abortions, under the guise of investigating whether doctors might be performing them in contravention of certain state restrictions. They have sought to make it harder for women even to obtain birth control pills, forcing them to argue with objecting pharmacists in all the privacy afforded by a drugstore aisle. Just days ago, the Bush administration put forth a new rule that would allow objecting health care workers to refuse to tell rape victims about the availability of emergency contraception or refuse to dispense ordinary birth control pills.
Anti-abortion activists promote a policy of official meddling — yes, by government bureaucrats — into the private lives of millions of American women, and the lives of their husbands and boyfriends. Their pleas to now give the Palin family privacy in one of its most difficult moments are easily understood and no doubt supported by every American who has ever had a family crisis. That is, by all of us.
No one who supports abortion rights would wish for any unmarried, 17-year-old girl to become pregnant. No advocate of abortion rights would even suggest that a teenager in Bristol’s situation should terminate the pregnancy without weighing her own conscience and deciding, with her family, on her own course.
And yes, we believe she should make her decisions in a private cocoon, embraced by loving family and friends. We just wish that anti-abortion crusaders would afford every family the same respect for privacy they now demand for one of their own.
Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.
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