“It’s Not a Choice, It’s a Child” — Except When It’s Beneficial To Say It’s a Choice

by Cara on August 30, 2008

in 2008 election, abortion, anti-choice extremism, disability, media, misogyny, paternalism, patriarchy, politics, pregnancy, religious fanaticism, reproductive justice, Republicans, social conservatives, women’s health

Here’s something — one of many things — that bothers me about the Sarah Palin coverage.  (Maybe I’ll get to the others in the near future; not sure.)

Right here, the NY Times says it — and they’re right, and far from the only ones who are noting it:

Ms. Palin is known to conservatives for opting not to have an abortion after learning that the child she was carrying, her youngest, had Down syndrome. “It is almost impossible to exaggerate how important that is to the conservative faith community,” Mr. Reed said.

You know, it’s the anti-choicers who use “it’s not a choice, it’s a child” as a rallying cry to force women to give birth.  And yet here I am, as pro-choice as can be, really fucking annoyed that conservative assholes are portraying this very real, actual child as a political choice rather than the human being that he is.

You know what we often say about how conservatives care a whole lot about fetuses but very little about actual children?  Well here’s your example.  It’s almost as though they think that Palin became pregnant and gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome simply to please them.  And the thing is that if they really believe their rhetoric, the answer was obvious, so obvious in fact that Palin didn’t really have a “choice” to make.  Only now, because it’s convenient, they want to acknowledge that the decision of whether or not to abort after getting news that your child will be born with a disability is a difficult one, simply so that they can point and say “but look at her, she searched her soul and then did the right thing — so should all women!”  They don’t want women to have a choice, but then want to praise this particular woman for the choice that she did make.

And it’s wrong.

People who call themselves “pro-life” make difficult decisions every day to abort fetuses that have fatal abnormalities or are likely to be born with disabilities.  And people who are pro-choice every day make the decision to continue pregnancies that many other people would deem too difficult.  Pro-choice people, in addition to forced-birth proponents like Palin, give birth to babies with Down Syndrome and other disabilities.  And there is no contradiction here.  They, too, made a choice.  There is nothing wrong with having a child with a disability. And I don’t care what reproductive choices a woman makes so long as she makes them freely; I am simply thrilled that she has the opportunity and freedom to do what is right for her own life.  That also goes for Palin.

This child should not be a political pawn.  And while I hope and will assume until proven otherwise that Palin herself will not go this route, the media and her supporters almost certainly will.  To portray Palin as this wonderful pro-life martyr is both misogynistic and ableist.  Having a child is only a humble sacrifice for a woman in a sexist world where women are expected to have no lives outside of their children, and are considered wrong if they do.  And painting her child as a sacrifice specifically because of his disability treats him as a less worthy and valuable human being.

Palin’s son was a choice but now that he is born he is also a child.  To conservatives, he seems to only be the former, because without the choice there is no symbol.  The ironic thing is that in a world where Palin did not have a choice (one that I find hard to truly imagine for a woman of such means), there would be nothing here to celebrate.  In that world, Palin’s child could still (wrongly) be used as a symbol of righteousness for the anti-choice cause, but Palin could not.  The only reason they can use Palin to represent why women should not have rights, is because women currently have rights.

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{ 25 comments }

1 Renee August 30, 2008 at 2:30 pm

The ironic thing is that in a world where Palin did not have a choice (one that I find hard to truly imagine for a woman of such means), there would be nothing here to celebrate.

So very well put. The fact of the matter is that these pro life advocates don’t really respect life what they respect is birth. What happens to the child afterword is something that they never consider in their desire to turn women into reproductive ovens. That Palin could even make this choice because she is a woman of privilege is certainly not something that is worthy of debating either. Had she been a poor woman who was destined to be a single mother her decision might have been different. Would that make her any less worthy of a person? My sensibilities are bridled by the way the birth of her son has been treated, because of his disability his mother is being turned into a saint and he is being othered. It is wrong and shameful.

2 Tina August 30, 2008 at 3:20 pm

There are enough blogs insulting her for having a Down’s Syndrome baby, ck Daily Kos…Palin is being called everything under the sun for having a Down’s Syndrome baby. Some have stated quite clearly that she should have aborted “the issue.” So because she didn’t she’s stupid, a moron, irresponsible, etc. etc. I have a child with disabilities and I felt quite ashamed and sad on those comments. Gov. Palin has my sympathy whether I agree with her politics or not.

3 Cara August 30, 2008 at 3:29 pm

I haven’t seen that yet Tina, but obviously it’s wrong. Do you have a link?

4 Ruth August 30, 2008 at 7:39 pm

“*A* link”? Sadly, it would be a heck of a lot more than one.

All over the shop, people who are supposed to be compassionate liberals are coming straight out and saying, not just implying, that “defective” babies *should* be aborted ipso facto, and that wicked old conservative Palin put her principles before the wellbeing of her new baby, other children and society.

Well done, fellas, for giving the rightwingers a lovely stick to beat us with. Not to mention thanks for telling us our much-loved kids are a waste of space…

Grr.

5 Anna August 30, 2008 at 8:18 pm

I have been in such a state of dread about this since Ms Palin was announced as VP pick. I’m appalled, Cara – not about her choices, but that her child, Trig, will be used as a pawn to either demonize or sanctify her. As though that’s all a child with disabilities is about.

My friend, my beautiful optimistic friend who loves me and hates me slipping into despair, hopes that this leads to more people talking about funding and support services for parents raising children with disabilities, and for adults living with disabilities. I love her, she’s so kind to me.

We both know it’s not going to happen, though. It’s all going to be about abortion. As though people who find out that their fetus has a disability make a decision to continue their pregnancy or terminate in a vacuum that isn’t influenced by society’s lack of support.

6 Wendy August 30, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Bravo – thank you for this well-thought out post. As a physical therapist who works daily with individuals living (and thriving) with disability…including Down’s Syndrome, I am more than disgusted at the media using this child as a political pawn…and quite frankly, if Ms. Palin continues to allow this (and by that I mean not asking the political talking heads and the ad guys and the strategists to stop using this aspect of her life to try to boost votes), I will be even further disgusted. You are so right to point out that she had a choice…and made the choice right for her and her family. Why would she want to stand in the way of other women having that same right to choose(and don’t even get me started about her view that abortion should not be an option for women who have been raped or become pregnant through incest…*groan*). There is so much that is just wrong with all of this…

7 Finn August 30, 2008 at 9:57 pm

THANK YOU. That line in the NY Times article jumped out at me as well (in addition to the fact that “mother of five children” and “former beauty pageant winner” seem to be more noteworthy than, you know, her political experience or stance on any issues) as something that was utterly bizarre to say. If she is 110% pro-life and deeply religious, what choice did she make? If she believes what she purports to believe, she never even considered any alternatives, so I don’t understand why the paper is implying she nobly opted not to have an abortion when abortion was a total non-option for her. Should we praise her next for not cheating on her husband or not blaspheming or going along with any other of her religious beliefs?

I’m fine with praising the woman for dealing with a hardship with grace and compassion, but I’m not going to applaud because her baby had the misfortune to have Downs when she was going to have him either way. What a bizarre thing to praise her for.

8 Lisa Harney August 31, 2008 at 2:04 pm

All over the shop, people who are supposed to be compassionate liberals are coming straight out and saying, not just implying, that “defective” babies *should* be aborted ipso facto, and that wicked old conservative Palin put her principles before the wellbeing of her new baby, other children and society.

Oh, Jesus. I guess we don’t have enough eugenics going on we have to make it a political football.

And I mean McCain’s campaign too, but this is pretty vile stuff.

9 Sweet Machine August 31, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Thank you so much for this post. You have crystallized exactly what’s so infuriatingly offensive in this narrative of reproductive martyrdom/sainthood. It’s outrageously demeaning to women who make *any* choice about whether to raise a disabled child — a choice that, as Anna points out above, is made in a profoundly ableist society.

10 Mary August 31, 2008 at 6:15 pm

I have to respect anyone who can raise a downs baby, it is very difficult to do and requires quite the charter. That being said any mother who lets their child be used to further their career, well it’s pretty low. Her politics are awful, and her experience is very limited. I wish the media would focus on that, not her child, and if they won’t she needs to refuse to talk to them until they do!

11 Becky August 31, 2008 at 10:29 pm

The thing is, in touting this as some kind of pro-life cred, people are making the assumption that the only reason any woman would choose to have a baby with Downs Syndrome is because she doesn’t believe in abortion. It doesn’t seem to occur to anybody that maybe she wanted this child, and wouldn’t have had an abortion even if she was pro-choice. It’s disgustingly ableist.

12 Alexa August 31, 2008 at 11:25 pm

There is apparently some issue about whether or not the “choice” was even hers to make, and that perhaps her daughter was forced to “choose” to give birth.

Has anyone seen this yet?

http://ktracy.com/?p=2068

13 Emily August 31, 2008 at 11:28 pm

Now that Palin has the spokespeople to decry the media’s commentary, I wonder if we’re going to read anything about it on Monday. I certainly hope that Palin will release a statement about it, or at least have the McCain campaign issue one on her behalf.

14 Lee August 31, 2008 at 11:39 pm

What I don’t get is why Palin’s decision is even being called a choice. According to her beliefs, abortion was never an option, no matter what, so what choice did she make?

15 Pop Feminist September 1, 2008 at 2:24 pm

“The only reason they can use Palin to represent why women should not have rights, is because women currently have rights.”

YES! Wonderful post.

16 TC September 1, 2008 at 3:56 pm

Why don’t we say what the real problem is: what does the far right really have against birth control? Because that’s what we’re tiptoeing around. Why do they feel it’s better to pressure a unready 17 year old girl to marry a fellow teen (who is unlikely to have a job with a living wage or health insurance) instead of teaching them about birth control in the first place? Why are we suppose to keep giving birth like unthinking farm animals who can conceive up until the day they die of old age? Why do they think we’re too stupid to figure out what we can and cannot handle? It has nothing to do with Palin’s non-choice, and everything to do with whether they think women can make logical decisions or if we should always fall back on the feelings of old white men who pat us on the head because father-knows-best.

17 Cara September 1, 2008 at 5:08 pm

TC, I don’t see anyone tiptoeing around birth control because I don’t see what that actually has to do with the topic at hand. This post is about Sarah Palin, not Bristol Palin. And I want to keep it that way. Whether or not Sarah Palin intended to become pregnant isn’t really the point here, and I seriously doubt that a governor would be lacking for access to birth control. The governor’s teenage daughter, I can definitely see that. But the governor, no.

18 Roger September 1, 2008 at 8:13 pm

Cara – I’m afraid if “liberal” blogs like Daily Kos keep flogging the Palin/Pregnancy “story” it will cost Obama votes in the Fall. I also believe that it is beneath progressive values to try and score points on this. Obama said it best when he said this should be off limits.

I wrote about the rumors on my “newish” blog today … http://didntaskme.blogspot.com/2008/09/palin-pregnancy-prattle.html

19 Aisah September 1, 2008 at 8:25 pm

I think the whole reason that the conservative media is praising her is because 80-90 percent of fetuses, diagnosed with Down Syndrome, are aborted (Washington Post).

Sure women have the right to choose, what’s best for their family, and they might come up with different reasons why they may not continue the pregnancy; but when you see a statistic, such as above–well, actions speak louder than words. It seems like pure eugenics, in my humble opinion.

Aisha

20 Kristin Lasagna September 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm

As the mother and sister of people with disabilities, I’ve been super teed off by this whole “controversy”, but I have another thought. Why would we think that an absolute anti-abortion pregnant mom would have any prenatal testing that would have informed her before his birth that the fetus was anything but perfect?

21 Cara September 2, 2008 at 11:26 am

Aisah — what that analysis ignores though is the reality of people’s lives and the fact that they don’t make these choices in a vacuum. People often make these choices due to a lack of support in terms of financial and medical needs, social judgments like many we’ve seen about people who knowingly give birth to those with disabilities, and so on.

Now, if we fix those problems, I think that these abortions would not disappear — just like we can do everything in the world to provide sex and make it easier for women to parent, and they’ll still have abortions for other reasons. I think that we can (and should) support a woman’s right to make that choice regardless of whether or not we agree with that choice.

22 Jen R September 2, 2008 at 11:32 am

Kristin, I considered prenatal testing, even though I would not have aborted, just for the purpose of being able to research and prepare ahead of time if my child did have a genetic condition.

Ninety percent of women whose children are diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome abort. There is a lot of pressure put on parents not to have “defective” children — both in lack of support (as Anna points out) and in direct statements that children like Trig should not be born. I do admire Sarah Palin for living up to her principles in the face of that pressure.

23 Helen September 2, 2008 at 4:04 pm

To portray Palin as this wonderful pro-life martyr is both misogynistic and ableist.

It also ignores the fact that unlike 99.9% of women, Palin is rich enough to hire a live-in carer, so she doesn’t have to make the hard choices between caring and earning her living.

24 carolina September 2, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Abortion will become more prevalent the easier it is to obtain & the more socially acepted it is & that’s certainly evident. You are endorsing it by making it part of this culture. How dare you say it’s not you responsible ‘it will always happen’, you are not supporting, you are encouraging people to find it acceptable & by doing so ensuring it will always be viewed as acceptable & non-harmful by many & many more. Who will likely then say to themself ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t use protection, nobody will be hurt’, which is pure ignorance. I’m not religious, but the whole abortion thing bring to mind paganism & child sacrifice- they believed during that era they were doing it for the greater good, just like people now who do it often do. The sad fact is you truly believe you are helping & doing good.

25 Cara September 2, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Ha. Carolina, I do find abortion acceptable. So I’m actually pleased to be seen as promoting that view. In fact, I’m proud of it. Abortion is not ideal, but it is acceptable and should always be available, otherwise women die. Oh, and they’re also turned into incubators by law.

But what do I know? I also apparently drink aborted fetus blood for breakfast . . .

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