I too admire Sarah Palin for living out her beliefs. I admire the courage and compassion she has shown in her family. I agree that the abortion rate in the United States is tragically high, and I would like Americans to agree on the high value of human life, born and unborn. Also, she gave a terrific speech last night.
Nevertheless, I suspect that a McCain-Palin administration would not be nearly as pro-life as my friends--and Governor Palin herself--hope.
- Historically, Republicans have done no better than Democrats at reducing the abortion rate. The U.S. abortion rate has been declining quite steadily since 1980, when there were 29.3 induced abortions per 1000 women between ages 15 and 44. By contrast, there were only 19.4 such abortions in 2005, the most recent year studied. This may simply reflect a changing demographic as Baby Boomers age (women under 25 get half of all abortions, and the under-25 segment has gotten proportionately smaller during the years studied). Still, Republican administrations have been no more likely than Democratic administrations to stem the tide. In fact, the largest drop occurred during President Clinton's first term.
- McCain is unlikely to try to overturn Roe v Wade. As he famously said in 1999, "I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. ... But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations." Even if, as some Democrats fear, his Supreme Court nominees did overturn the landmark legislation, the result would not be to outlaw abortions but rather to return the decision to individual states.
- If Palin tried to outlaw abortion, most Americans would oppose her. A public opinion poll last year indicates that 34% of Americans are in favor of generally available abortion ("abortion on demand"), 41% would like abortion to be legal but with more restrictions (few are in favor of late-term abortions, for example), and 23% would like abortion to be outlawed. As long as 75% of Americans favor legal abortion, it will not be outlawed.
- McCain and Palin oppose sex-education classes that teach about contraception, even though abstinence-only classes appear to be less effective in preventing pregnancy. Earlier this year, University of Washington researchers concluded that "students who'd had comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to report a pregnancy than those without any sex education and 50 percent less likely than the abstinence-only group." Interestingly, teen pregnancy rates in Europe, where sex education is the norm, are much lower than those of the U.S. "Likewise, the U.S. abortion rates are disproportionately high," Nancy Gibbs wrote in Time magazine last January. "Rates in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are less than half that in the U.S."
- McCain's tax proposals will benefit low-income people significantly less than Obama's (check out this article and chart from CNN Money). If you are a pro-lifer who truly believes that Republican economic policy is more effective than Democratic policy at reducing poverty, then vote for McCain, because abortion and poverty go hand-in-hand. According to the Guttmacher Institute, "The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women)." If, however, you like McCain's view on abortion but prefer Obama's view on the economy, then vote for Obama-- economic policies that benefit the poor could have a greater effect on the abortion rate than McCain's dislike of Roe v Wade.
- Abortion is not the only pro-life issue. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was known for his "seamless garment" philosophy, his belief that life must be protected at all stages. According to his consistent pro-life ethic, Christians must be concerned about abortion, and also about health care, poverty, euthanasia, capital punishment, military involvement, and every other arena in which human life may be devalued or unnecessarily cut short. According to Bernardin, "A consistent ethic does not say everyone in the Church must do all things, but it does say that as individuals and groups pursue one issue, whether it is opposing abortion or capital punishment, the way we oppose one threat should be related to support for a systemic vision of life.
- McCain-Palin are long-term supporters of the war in Iraq. They believe it was right for the United States to invade, and they believe a military victory is in sight. Obama, by contrast, believes it is an ill-advised war whose repercussions have made the U.S. more, not less, susceptible to terrorism. Whatever your views, over 4,000 American military have died in Iraq since 2003--and, less often reported in the U.S. media, approximately 90,000 Iraquis have also been victims of violent death.
- According to an article on an NRA web page, "Gov. Sarah Palin would be one of the most pro-gun vice-presidents in American history, and Joe Biden would definitely be the most anti-gun." The NRA thinks that's a plus for Palin. It likes the fact that she and McCain opposed banning handguns in the District of Columbia, whose death rate from firearm injuries is higher (23.8 per 100,000 in 2005) than that of any of the fifty states (Louisiana is next, at 18.8, followed by Alaska, at 17.4).
- First, tell the Obama-Biden team you are concerned. (You can e-mail them here.) Encourage them to speak up in favor of the unborn, even if they believe Roe v Wade is here to stay. Tell them you're looking for a team with a consistent pro-life ethic. Tell them you'd love to vote for them, if only they would not ignore this important issue. They just might listen.
- Second, don't let your ideals dazzle your judgment. Consider the possibility that a McCain-Palin administration would result in more war, more guns, and more poverty--resulting in arguably more deaths-by-abortion, and certainly more deaths overall--than an Obama-Biden administration.