How Sarah Palin Has Helped Pro-Choice Activists

Sarah Palin is well known for rallying her base, getting social conservatives behind the Republican ticket. But there’s another constituency that she has gotten plenty excited lately: the big pro-choice groups. The Alaska governor and Planned Parenthood have dramatically opposed views on abortion--and that’s exactly what has made her a great uniter for the pro-choice movement.

Palin is unwaveringly pro-life, more so than her running mate. John McCain is by no means a centrist when it comes to abortion--you can read more about that here--but his views are not as strong as Palin's. She calls herself as "pro-life as any candidate can be" and does walk the talk. She's pointed to the fact that she chose to have her son Trig even though she knew he would be born with Down syndrome and that she supports her daughter Bristol's pregnancy as signs that she embraces what she calls a "culture of life." The same is evident in her policy positions: Palin supports outlawing all abortions except in cases where the mother's life is at risk and opposes stem-cell research that would destroy embryonic stem cells. That already had pro-choice voters pretty riled up when McCain selected her as a running mate--one survey in early September found that more than half of women, when told about Palin’s views on abortion, viewed the Republican ticket less favorably. Then in an interview earlier this week with Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, Palin raised eyebrows when she said her running mate's views were closer to her own. Asked if McCain would support the Republican platform if elected (The 2008 Republican Party platform opposes stem cell research and supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion. The platform does not include exceptions in cases of rape or incest*), Palin responded:

James Dobson: "In your private conversations with Senator McCain, is it your impression that he also strongly supports those views? I know that he did not oppose that platform when it was written. Do you think he will implement it?"
 
Sarah Palin: "I do, from the bottom of my heart. I am such a strong believer that McCain believes in those strong planks and we do have good conversations about some of the details, too, about the different planks and what they represent."

One slight problem--while Palin’s pro-life positions are in line with the Republican Party platform, McCain’s aren’t. He supports stem-cell research and opposes a constitutional amendment that does not make exceptions for cases of rape and incest. Some dismissed this as another Palin gaffe, simply mischaracterizing her running mate’s positions, but Planned Parenthood took a different route: they used it as an open window for an attack. Shortly after the interview, the pro-choice group issued a press release spinning this comment not as a slip-up, but a key insight into the "out of touch" McCain they’ve "known all along." "Palin told Dobson that, based on private conversations with McCain, she believes he fully supports and would work to implement the GOP platform, including the provision to seek a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions even in cases of rape and incest,” the release claimed, although McCain has in the past opposed doing any such a thing. But once Palin put the idea out there, it gave Planned Parenthood an easy shot at McCain and another opportunity to get their own base fired up.

When those voters get angry, they start donating money. In this case, Planned Parenthood has become the beneficiary. Shortly after Palin’s nomination, e-mails began circulating suggesting that pro-choice women make donations to Planned Parenthood in her honor. As of this week, Planned Parenthood has received more than 40,000 donations in Palin’s name, totaling more than $1 million. Various bloggers suggested sending the complimentary card to McCain’s campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va., just to rub in what a big draw Palin was for the pro-choice crowd. There’s even a Web site, plannedparenthoodandsarahpalin.com, dedicated to walking users through their donation process.

Would Palin become the foe of choice, as those 40,000 Planned Parenthood donors fear? In terms of policy, it’s actually not so clear whether or not Palin would usher in a set of stringent regulations. Abortion regulations in Alaska actually liberalized under her watch as governor, as my colleague Katie Paul reported a few weeks ago. Palin has always touted a strong commitment to the pro-life agenda and a culture of life, but her previous decisions as an executive suggest that it would be far from the most important issue on her agenda. From Paul’s story:

In April, the governor denied the state legislature's request for extra debates on two controversial anti-abortion bills, one requiring minors to obtain parental consent before having abortions and another outlawing partial-birth abortion except to save the life of the mother. After state senators failed to reach agreement, the chamber's president tried to attach them to the agenda of a special legislative session being held on Palin's top legislative priority: a new natural gas pipeline. Palin demurred. "Alaskans know I am pro-life and have never wavered in my belief in the sanctity of every human life," she said in a statement. "These issues are so important they shouldn't be diluted with oil and gas deliberations."

Sarah Palin surely will not become a pro-choice icon any time soon. But with the help she’s lent in terms of fundraising and liberalizing Alaska’s abortion restrictions, she has not been much of an enemy either.

*NOTE: This text was updated to match the language of the GOP platform
Join the Discussion