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Celebrating Choice

Governor Palin and her family celebrated their unwed 17-year-old daughter’s choice not to have an abortion. From Marketblog, “We’re proud of Bristol’s decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents,” said Palin. Obviously, despite their otherwise pro-life rhetoric in other contexts, the right to choose is still an important part of her worldview. In this case, the choice not to abort.

Governor Palin also had to face the difficult decision herself a few months ago when she was confronted with the choice of aborting her baby diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Timothy Shriver discusses in his column Religion from the Heart: Palin’s Choice: Pro Trig, “Sarah Palin was not coerced into having Trig, she chose to have him.” Again, the right to choose is celebrated.

I celebrate these decisions too. But there is an obvious paradox for Palin and her ilk. Were these really choices to celebrate? Do pro-life advocates have a right to extol such decisions and praise her character? Clearly, they haven’t thought out the implications of their philosophy. Remember, in their worldview, there was, for all practical purposes, no choice. The “choice” was made under duress from the creator of the universe and with the threat of eternal damnation. For her, who believes in such things, these “decisions” were algorithmic and there is nothing to celebrate and nothing to admire in her character. There was nothing here to test her mettle. No trials and tribulations. No humanity.

The same problem exists for a religious person who claims to be moral only by virtue of their religion. A religious person who is moral, is moral in spite of their religion — for any person who is moral under duress is by definition not moral at all. Either they are simply acting moral for the entertainment of their god to avoid punishment, or there must be something else deeper in their human character driving their moral behavior.

Only because of choices do agonizing moral decisions become tests of character to celebrate. While most pro-lifers would hesitate to admit it, if they celebrate choice and Palin’s difficult decision, they tacitly must also not take their own pro-life stance very seriously.

The right to choose is fundamental to our humanness and should not be compromised lightly. And weighty moral decisions should not be made lightly either. In my view, Palin would also have been commended if, after careful deliberation, she made the painful choice to abort her child, although it would make me sad at the loss of a precious human life. I would have also admired the courage of her daughter, Bristol, to abort her current baby — if the choice was made freely. But in any case, whatever choice was made, whatever moral conundrums are evoked, Iron Age mythologies should not be our social guide in these matters, nor should it dictate our legal policy.

Let’s be clear: No sane human is anti-life nor anti-choice. But keep the government and your gods out of it. This particular morality, these lives, and these choices, are individual human matters.

Thanks to JLK for planting the seeds of this discussion.

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