Sarah Palin not anti-choice enough?

A far right group claims the former Alaska governor's rhetoric on abortion sounds too "liberal" and "pro-choice"

Published November 16, 2009 8:17PM (EST)

In Salon today, Max Blumenthal writes of Sarah Palin, "her career has become a vehicle through which the right-wing evangelical movement feels it can express its deepest identity in opposition both to secular society and to its representatives in the Obama White House. Palin is perceived by its leaders -- and followers -- not as another cynical politician or even as a self-promoting celebrity, but as a kind of magical helper, the God-fearing glamour girl who parachuted into their backwater towns to lift them from the drudgery of everyday life, assuring them that they represented the 'Real America.'" That's an astute (and incredibly disturbing) assessment of how many right-wing evangelicals perceive Palin -- but some of them aren't so impressed. The 527 group American Right to Life has compiled a "prolife profile" of Sarah Palin that describes her as a cynical politician indeed, a fake anti-choicer whose  "words and actions prove that she is officially pro-choice and stands against the God-given right to life of the unborn."

Yes, we're talking about the same Sarah Palin. According to ARL, her offenses include: Appointing a former Planned Parenthood board member to the Alaska Supreme Court, failing to oppose the morning-after pill (described here as "an abortifacient chemical that kills the tiniest children"), failing to oppose stem cell research, failing to support efforts to define fetuses as full persons, and -- wait for it -- promoting evolution.

Evidently, a belief in evolution is incompatible with opposing abortion because a literal interpretation of the Bible is the only good reason to give a toss about human rights. "Palin undermines the God-given right to life by advocating that evolution 'should be taught as an accepted principle,' and that God's hand in creation, 'should not be part of state policy or a local curriculum...' But then, where do rights come from?" And if they don't come from god, what the hell are we doing treating each other with respect like a bunch of suckers?

Even beyond the evolution thing, the group's problem with Palin largely comes down to the fact that she's given an occasional weak nod to the separation of church and state. Palin does a lot of undermining "the God-given right to life of the unborn," it seems, by not pushing full steam ahead for theocracy. 

Obviously, any group that finds Palin too pro-choice is the fringe of the fringe. Talking Points Memo notes that ARL calls itself the "personhood wing of the right-to-life movement" and "advocates full legal rights 'from the moment of sexual or asexual human reproduction, which includes from fertilization.' The group opposes all forms of abortion as well as contraception like the Plan B pill and 'any birth control pill or intrauterine device that works to prevent implantation.'" In other it's-hard-to-take-them-seriously news, the group's logo features a fierce-faced eagle cradling an apparently born yet fetal-looking baby under one wing, which is just begging to be airbrushed onto the back windshield of a pick-up truck. (A friend of mine, upon seeing the logo: "I'm pretty sure that's their plan for taking care of babies born to parents who can't care for them, or to moms for whom proceeding with a pregnancy is fatal: Trained nanny eagles.") So this group's damning profile doesn't necessarily portend any wide-scale evangelical backlash against Palin. As Blumenthal makes clear, she seems to be doing just fine with hardcore right-wing Christians as a whole.

Nevertheless, it's worth considering how fringey her actual supporters seemed not so long ago, and just how much political momentum they've gained. And for as laughable as a feminist heathen like myself might find ARL's arguments, I have to give them credit for taking the "abortion equals child murder" argument to its logical conclusion: You can't make exceptions for rape, incest, health of the mother or any other reason. I would like to see more people pressing politicians who use that sort of inflammatory rhetoric to explain, then, why rape should be seen as a justification for child murder, or why they don't believe women who choose to terminate pregnancies should be imprisoned. Either it's murder or it's not; "it's only murder if the woman freely chose to have sex" and "only the person who carried out the murder, not the person(s) who commissioned it, should suffer consequences" are not supportable positions. They tend to reveal, in fact, that the holder of those beliefs does not sincerely believe that abortion is equivalent to the murder of a living human being. ARL and I are in agreement on that point, and that we'd all be better off if more anti-choice politicians (and voters) were expected to reckon with that inconsistency. It's just that here on planet earth, no one thinks the underlying problem is that Sarah Palin sounds too much like a liberal, or that she doesn't let her religion influence her politics quite enough.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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