With the introduction of Governor Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) onto the national political scene, one thing is for sure: the pro-life/pro-choice divide is sure to become a significant issue in the coming election. We already know that John McCain is pro-life while Obama is pro-choice but there’s a new factor: Trig Paxson Van Palin, the infant son of the governor, who has Down syndrome. Trig could be a game changer.
Trig was born on April 18, 2008. By the Governor’s account, she and her husband were aware that Trig had Down syndrome early in the pregnancy but they chose not to abort him. Estimates are that close to 90% of couples who are confronted with an early Down diagnosis take the opposite approach and terminate. In most situations, Trig doesn’t make it.
Here’s what Governor Palin said when Trig was born: “Trig is beautiful and already adored by us. We knew through early testing he would face special challenges, and we feel privileged that God would entrust us with this gift and allow us unspeakable joy as he entered our lives. We have faith that every baby is created for good purpose and has potential to make this world a better place. We are truly blessed.”
Such a candidate is bound to invigorate the pro-life movement. But if they respond in their usual Supreme Court-focused, judgmental fashion, it won’t bring us any closer to reducing abortion in the United States. It hasn’t yet, and there’s no reason to think it will now. In the abortion debate, the law has proved a wholly ineffective strategy for promoting life.
Sarah Palin was not coerced into having Trig, she chose to have him. Therein lies the possibility of the moment.
Trig could be a high-profile example of how wonderful it can be to choose life, even in adversity, even when the conditions aren’t perfect. After all, the conditions are never perfect, but the promise of a newborn baby is that God’s love is. Somehow, despite everything, love is triumphant. The message: Love life. Choose life.
What if Trig were to trigger a new way of thinking on both sides of the political spectrum? A middle ground could emerge that embraces our shared values rather than emphasizing our differences. The two parties could agree that we should do everything we can to choose life while doing nothing to make the choosing illegal.
Barack Obama came close to this position in his acceptance speech last Thursday. Perhaps his most powerful moment was his attempt to establish a middle ground on issues like abortion and gay marriage. “We may not agree on abortion,” he said, “but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”
But couldn’t he go one step further? Couldn’t he endorse the life choice and support counseling and support services for women who are open to carrying their pregnancies to term? And couldn’t Republicans make good on the pro-life rhetoric through a serious effort to support the needs of vulnerable children once they’re alive – by supporting child care, parent support, and community building?
Wouldn’t those who don’t believe in abortion be better served by trying to make life easier for struggling women rather than trying to fight the Supreme Court? And wouldn’t pro-choicers improve their standing by acknowledging the goodness of choosing life rather than pretending the decision carries no moral value?
Perhaps it’s naïve to hope for reconciliation in this treacherous debate, but this is a special time with extraordinary leaders from both parties.
Our dream of a people united has been wounded by years of name calling and misunderstanding. So why not ask for a fresh start, even on the spirituality of abortion. The bumper sticker has been around for years: “Choose life.” So let’s agree that couples should have the choice. But let’s also agree that the best choice is life.
Maybe Trig Palin could show us the way to unite behind that simple hope.