Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin's Choice

There has been quite a furor in a small part of the blogosphere over the past two days.
The furor erupted over an article at The Rule of Reason in which Nick Provenzo condemned Sarah Palin's choice to "knowingly give birth to a child with Down's Syndrome." The meat of Provenzo's argument was that, given the publicity celebrating the morality of Palin's choice, it was necessary to state that it is moral for a woman to choose abortion in such circumstances.

However, the fury that was expressed in many of the comments to Provenzo's argument added more heat than light to the issue at hand.
It seems that many of the self-described pro-life commenters have no problem threatening the lives of those who support a woman's right to make her own decisions about her health and family.

I have made no secret of my views on the morality of abortion. I do respect a woman's right to make all decisions regarding her health and the welfare of her family without government interference. I also recognize that for most women, the decision to have an abortion is one that is of the gravest moral and personal importance. I wrote about my personal ideals and my religious views on the matter in my Blogging for Choice entry, here.

That said, I do think that in his article Nick Provenzo came very close to stating that a woman carrying a Down's pregnancy is morally obligated to have an abortion. He begins by saying:

"Like many, I am troubled by Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down Syndrome."

This sounds like the problem for Provenzo is that Palin made a different choice than he would have made. She chose to go ahead with the pregnancy, rather than have an abortion. It would be easy to respond that Provenzo does not support a woman's moral right to make her own choice, unless that choice agrees with Provenzo's; that is, women really do not have the right to make a choice at all. Many of the comments did indeed make that response. Indeed, my first reaction was that Provenzo was arguing that a woman has a moral duty to have an abortion in such a case, but when I re-read his second sentence, I saw that this is not what he was saying. Rather, he makes this argument:

". . . it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus with Down Syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)--a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny."

I take this statement to mean that choosing for an abortion is moral. And I agree with that. However, Provenzo did not actually say that choosing against abortion is also a moral decision in this post, and so I put in a comment to discuss it among other exceptions I took to his post. I think my comment got lost among the hateful comments, because Provenzo did not clarify his position, which left him open to the charge that a woman has a right to choose as long as her choice is the one that Provenzo thinks is right.

Today, Provenzo did clarify his position in another post at the Rule of Reason. He said:
". . .a woman has the unqualified moral right to abort a fetus she carries inside her in accordance with her own judgment" (Emphasis added). It is clear then, that although Provenzo might personally disagree with Sarah Palin's choice, he does recognize her right to make it.

And that is the crux of the matter. Sarah Palin did make a choice. There are those who celebrate it for their own reasons, and there are those who condemn it for other reasons. But she made a choice in accordance with her own judgment, giving consideration to her means and ability to raise such a child and her desire to take on that responsibility.

I take exception to those who would see to it that other women have no such choice--those who would force a woman to carry a pregnancy that is, in her own judgment, detrimental to her own life and that of her family. And I also take exception to the many pundits and commentators who profess to be in favor of women making their own choices, but who condemn Sarah Palin for doing just that. Ultimately, the decision to have an abortion or not in these cases is of the gravest moral importance. A woman must consider her own life and circumstances, as well as the impact on her husband, and on any existing children in the family. She must also consider her religious affiliation and her moral convictions. None of these considerations is trivial.

Now, I do have a bone to pick with Nick Provenzo. It is his statement that a woman who knowingly chooses to give birth to a child with disabilities is a worshiper of disability. (His actual words are "the worship of retardation.") This hyperbole goes too far. Sarah Palin's decision to carry her child was a private matter. She has not discussed it in detail, nor should she be required to do so. Provenzo does not know how long Palin deliberated on this matter, nor does he know the reasoning that she used. He may guess based on her religious affiliation and public statements, but that guess could be woefully far from the mark.

An Aside: People often make ridiculous assertions about my stances on issues based on my religion. Actually, it is more that these guesses are based on their ignorance of my religion. I had one extremely ignorant supporter of "objective government" who was convinced that since I am a Jew, I must be a creationist. That one clearly knows nothing about Judaism: even the most orthodox of Jews are not biblical literalists or fundamentalists.

There are many reasons that a woman might bear and raise a child with disabilities: a sense of responsibility is one; love of the child is another. It was clear to me that, whatever other reasons Sarah Palin had for carrying Trig to term, the most powerful was love. As I watched her speech a few weeks ago, I saw her looking again and again at her child. At one point she smiled that mother's smile and mouthed "my baby."

Finally, to those of you who made a disgrace of the art of rhetoric with your name-calling and threats, I would like to close with this quote from my January 22, 2008 blog entry:

There are those among us who would like to think that they have a particular entitlement to determine the extent of liberty allowed the rest of us. They would like to tell you and me who we can marry, how many children we ought to have, what health care decisions we must make, and what world-view we must hold. Whether they are on the left or on the right, they are tyrants. Whether they seek to rule us in small matters or large, in personal decisions or public policy, we have the obligation as free men and women to resist them."

You are the tyrants!

And finally, I do not ask anyone else to practice my religion, or to abide by its laws and customs. I recognize that others have the right to practice their own religion in peace. But I expect that those of other religions respect my right to practice mine as well. American patriotism begins with respect for the right of each individual to self-determination in all matters, including those of moral choice.


Amie said...

Palin has really shook things up. I have heard many "pro choice" people condemning her choice, self proclaimed feminists criticizing her short maternity leave, and "women belong at home" right wingers applauding her career. It's weird.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Oh, I like how you put that Amie. Yes, she has really shaken things up. I think that John McCain's choice has brought out the true colors of ideologues on both sides of the political divide. And that is why she is inspiring such controversy. Nay, controversy is too mild a word. It's more than that. I think that it is, in the long run, good for those of us outside the beltway. We are finding out what the political and media elites really think. They do not understand us, they do not like us, and they think we are stupid.

As the libertarian Charles Murray says, "Government has become 'them.'"

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks you are a creationist really doesn't know you at all, do they? *LOL*

I would knowingly give birth to a child with Down's too. I wouldn't even consider abortion, and my husband agrees with me. I am not a "worshiper" of retardation, but I don't feel that one's I.Q. determines the value of one's life. Also, my husband and I are pretty much radical "pro-lifers" on a personal level, though not on a broader social and political level. (How could we make a grave moral decision for another person?) I find this fellow's comment infuriating. I would not presume to judge a couple who chose not to carry a baby to term, for whatever reason, and what right has he to judge Palin or anyone? Ah well, I am glad I missed this debate with all its nastiness.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Steph,

Personally, after all the trauma I've gone through trying to stay pregnant--and failing, I think that I would do everything I could to carry one to term. In the case of a baby with Downs, I think we could have handled that, too. And now so much is known about the positive effects of early intervention so that most such children have reasonably good lives.
Unfortunately, at my age, the issue is moot. I'll just have to wait for grandchildren!

Sometimes, I get lulled into thinking that Objectivists are rational, and then they come up with a statement like "worshipping retardation." And I realize that many of them live in a world constructed almost entirely in their heads, where certain biological and psychological realities cannot intrude.
And I wonder what these types will be like when their bodies begin to fail them and their memories go the way of all flesh. I don't think I'd want to be on their nursing home care team!

There is certainly no scientific validity to the idea that IQ comprises all of intelligence, or that all decisions are made in with input only from the prefrontal cortex (the seat of the rational mind). The evolutionary evidence is against them in this area. Can you imagine needing to run your reaction to danger through the executive functions? They are comparitively slow.

"I'm not sure that's really a snake. It could be a skink. Except skinks generally like warm, dark places. Oops. . .that rattle I heard? Not a grasshopper. Uh. Oh." That crash you heard was the falling Objectivist. The rest of us would have reacted immediately and put ourselves out of danger. If it was a skink or even a piece of rope we would have laughed at outselves and moved on.

Oops. I know only one Objectivist that has a sense of humor. My apologies to the rest of them.

The Objectivists are right in that the human mind is amazing, and it is responsible for our meteoric rise to the top of the food web.
(We are not the predominant species on earth. Sorry. Kingdom Prokarya still has us beat).
Objectivists tend to forget that the Pre-frontal cortex is only part of the decision making apparatus in the nervous system. We have separate decision making systems that are much faster, located in the limbic system, as well as in the peripheral nervous system and the enteric nervous system, and the latter does not appear to consult the brain at all. This is all part of our nature, and to ignore it or dismiss it is not terribly . . . well, objective.

Anyway, we all know that IQ has important implications for life. But it is certainly not the be-all and end-all of existence for most people. Even mildly retarded people can function well in our complex environment with a little help and guidance. And aside from the Objectivists, I do not see most people refusing help and good-will to family members and friends who did not win the genetic lottery!

Amie said...

Oops...Yes, "shaken" not "shook". LOL, that sounds much better.

Dr. Mark Mostert said...

A good post. You and your readers might be interested in my take on Palin and other things about disabilities at
Please also note the link there to Useless Eaters, a great website I developed about how the Nazis killed Germans w/ disabilites.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I have known two people with Down's Syndrome (one is my niece, the other a childhood friend). Both are wonderful people who live full lives and are loved by their families.
The term here is "choice", not "obligation." No woman should ever feel obligated to terminate their pregnancies for any reason.
I'm not fond of Sarah Palin for a number of reasons, but I don't hold it against her that she knowingly gave birth to Down's syndrome baby. That was her choice based on her beliefs and family situation.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Aztecqueen, and welcome back!

You know, it's kind of strange. Although I vehemently disagree with Sarah Palin on a multitude of things, I think that if she lived down the street, I'd like her, and probably spend some time talking over the garden wall with her. And I think she'd be a good neighbor to have in a pinch, you know when you needed someone to watch your kid at 3 AM because you have to run the other one to the ER. Or even just to borrow a cup of sugar.

But of course, religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin, we would need to tred carefully around.

But that is why good fences, good neighbors make!