I'm often asked whether I support Sarah Palin for president. I don't. But I do very much support her as America's next Oprah. Her cultural antennae are exquisitely sensitive, and she relishes combat. "Sarah's book club" would be an improvement.
After a recent speech in which she argued that "choosing life may not be the easiest path, but it's always the right path," the Washington Post Web edition invited responses. Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, thundered that "Palin calls herself a 'frontier feminist,' but she sounds more like a Pat Robertson feminist." Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary, noted that "A woman's life is a human life: Those who would deny women the right to moral autonomy, the ability to engage in moral reasoning about whether to continue a pregnancy to term or to have an abortion, develop their arguments based on assumptions of women's moral ineptitude."
Debra Haffner, of the Religious Institute, wrote, "In more than 30 years of working with women struggling with the question of continuing a pregnancy to term or having an abortion, I can think of fewer than a handful who approached the decision lightly. Almost every woman wrestled with what would be best in her individual circumstances, and with what her faith taught her."
This is fatuous moral reasoning. Thistlethwaite suggests that to oppose abortion on moral grounds is to "deny women the right to moral autonomy." Rights talk, as Mary Ann Glendon has observed, has invaded every arena of American life and impoverished civic discourse. Of course women are moral actors. But what is "moral autonomy"? Is it a new right to make immoral choices without being criticized? Does it apply in areas beyond abortion? Do laws against prostitution or baby selling compromise women's "moral autonomy"? Do all laws?
Haffner's argument is also familiar -- not to say hackneyed. We've heard it many times. Abortion is a an "agonizing personal choice." Women struggle with the decision. Well, some doubtless do agonize, but, let's face it, many do not. Feminist writer Naomi Wolf admitted in 2004 that, "I used to think of abortion as being somewhat trivial; the moral equivalent of serious root canal dentistry." A recent survey by the Allan Guttmacher Institute found that 50 percent of women undergoing abortions each year are having their second or more. If the process of deciding on abortion were truly that wrenching, repeat abortions would not be nearly as common.