Choosing Life a ‘Controversial’ Decision
Palins’ pro-life magazine cover sparks outrage.
by Colleen Raezler, Culture and Media Institute
Pro-life activists most likely cheered upon seeing this week’s In Touch Weekly. The magazine, usually devoted to the latest celebrity shenanigans, featured Sarah and Bristol Palin on the cover holding their baby boys under the headline, “We’re Glad We Chose Life.”
But for the media, who find everything about Sarah Palin controversial, including, now, holding her own baby, it’s one more attack opportunity that includes calling her daughter a “privileged” teen mother.
Sarah and Bristol were “schlepping those babies around like crazy,” said Joy Behar. No friend of the Palins on any day, on the Jan. 13 edition of her show Behar predictably found fault with the magazine cover and complained of Palin’s youngest son, Trig, “That baby, they passed that baby around more than a joint at a Grateful Dead concert.” To her guests, liberal talk show host Stephanie Miller and Huffington Post editor Roy Sekoff, she asked, “Is she going to bring that baby on the set of Fox?”
Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.com called the cover a “jaw dropper” and questioned the appropriateness of showing the Palins on it. “Hey, we’re all for mothers loving their babies, but if it’s not 1984 and you’re not in a Wham! video, [in which George Michael wore a shirt that said “Choose Life”] you might want to reconsider whether that sentiment is appropriate in a pop culture context,” she wrote in a Jan. 14 post.
Later in her rant, Williams noted, “It’s interesting, nonetheless, that the Palin women chose a magazine that chronicles the dating habits of Pussycat Dolls and provides makeovers to the cast of ‘Jersey Shore’ to express their heartfelt rhetoric on the joys of motherhood.”
And at Air America, the liberal radio network, a headline maintained that by posing with her children and grandchild, “Palin Pushes Pro-Life Policy On In Touch Cover.”
Cassandra Gaddo, managing editor of Today’s Chicago Woman, accused Palin of “deifying her own choices and using her resulting happy endings as proof that everyone should (be forced to) choose her choice.”
The story that accompanied the cover shoot did not “deify” the Palins or their choices, nor did it push any sort of policy. The photo spread and story looked similar to those that herald the birth of other celebrity children and included adorable pictures of the boys and comments from Bristol and Sarah about how their experiences have drawn them closer.
In Touch’s cover carries a special poignancy this week as Friday, January 22, marks the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
Both women gave birth to their babies under strained circumstances. Sarah, as is widely known, discovered at age 43 that she was pregnant with her son, Trig, who was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. Bristol, then 17, revealed her pregnancy shortly after her mother joined the Republican ticket as the vice-presidential candidate in the 2008 election. She gave birth to Tripp in December 2008, and broke up with his father, Levi Johnston, in early 2009.
Both women had a choice to make in their situations. Both chose to carry their pregnancies to term. And yet when they discuss their choices in a public forum like a magazine, these women are vilified. Even In Touch used the word “controversial” to describe Bristol’s decision to have Tripp.
Appropriateness of Showing Babies?
Williams’ questioning of what’s appropriate for pop culture cuts to the mainstream media’s outlook on life issues. Sure, pop culture’s reality shows and magazines are fine for elevating ill-behaved people to A-list status. It’s fine for promoting liberal politicians, like Ashton Kutcher and his Hollywood pals did last year by pledging to be a “servant” to President Obama. But try to promote a traditional value, and all of sudden pop culture is a sacred sphere not open to just anyone.
In the Palins’ case, it’s particularly significant that they spoke lovingly of Trig as 92 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted.
Sarah told Barbara Walters in November 2009 that she thought about abortion upon receiving Trig’s diagnosis. “I knew that the option was there … I thought again, for that split second, ‘OK, now I know too, why, when that fear strikes you because of the unknown,” she stated in a “20/20” interview. “I understood then, too, why a woman would consider [abortion] an easier path perhaps, if you will, do away with the problem, instead of understanding that every child has a purpose.”
To In Touch, Sarah explained the joys that Trig brought to her and her family’s lives. “He’s made me more patient and compassionate, and more focused on priorities that really matter,” the former governor said. “Even more so now with Trig, there is less time to worry about the frivolity, less time to engage in things that aren’t worthwhile or worth my time and effort.”
As for Trig’s future, Sarah told In Touch that she and her husband Todd are not afraid, but “have great hope and lot of optimism.”
For her part, Bristol spoke of the difficulties she’s faced since becoming a teen mother. “I remember sitting on a black recliner, just bawling my eyes out,” she related to In Touch. “I was just rocking Tripp to sleep because he had been screaming for so long. I was just like, ‘What am I going to do? This is as bad as it gets.’”
At no point in the article did Bristol glamorize her situation, but simply explained what her daily life is like, much like any new mother. “Time for yourself – there’s no such thing. You don’t have time for friends when you have a baby. Things like that are just put on the back burner.”
Sarah also spoke of opportunities Bristol gave up to be a mother to her child. “Everything stopped. Education slowed down. Before, the world was her oyster. She has limited options now.”
But even through the difficult situation of caring for Tripp, while going to school and working, Bristol stated, “Tripp is the love of my life – I couldn’t ask for a better baby.” She elaborated, “It’s definitely been the most busy year of my life, but the most rewarding, as well. I’m totally driven because Tripp is completely dependent on me.”
‘Privileged’ Teen Mom
Blogger Cassandra Gaddo and Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams both complained about the use of the word “choice” in the headline.
“The thing about “we’re glad we chose life” is it implies they had a choice,” argued Gaddo. After tossing the faint praise of “raising a baby with Down’s [sic] syndrome or alone as a single, teen parent is no easy feat,” Gadoo further griped because, “They don’t mention the fact that they’re prefer just to take that choice away from the rest of American woman. And they make nary a mention of the fact that both mother and daughter have access to social and economic resources that many other women in similar situations don’t.”
“A big reason [Bristol] was able to ‘choose life’ is because she’s financially equipped to make such a decision,” Gaddo further argued, noting that Bristol still lives at her parents’ home. “The inherent privilege of being Bristol Palin cannot be underplayed if she’s going to become the new poster child for teen moms.”
Williams made similar points. She called Sarah and Bristol’s decisions a “serious and challenging choice,” but continued on to say, “see, the thing about ‘choosing’ life is that you can’t do it you don’t have any other options – something that the elder right-to-life fundraising Palin, who has called abortion an ‘atrocity,’ seems to be unclear on.”
Prior to that, Williams also noted “There’s also plenty of evidence [that] women who’ve had abortions aren’t too sad about it either. Women, who unlike Bristol, don’t have a tabloid paying them a reported six figures to note glowingly how they’re ‘buying [their] own diapers and formula’ and publish photos of mama bathing the little one in the sink.”
But the article didn’t portray Bristol as raising Tripp fully on her own. It mentioned six different times the support Bristol has from her family, and more than a quarter of the last page of the feature focused on the fact that Bristol’s situation is much better than what many teen moms face. The “privileges” were in no way underplayed.
Bristol noted the help her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lend. “I have such an awesome extended family. They are over here at least once a week. I’m lucky to have such a supportive family.” A sidebar also explained that one of her aunts cares for Tripp while Bristol is at work.
How Dare They!
In Touch’s feature about the Palins was no more political than any other interview Hollywood celebrities grant to magazines following the births of their bundles of joy. And, whatever their moral opposition to abortion, the women did not imply, as Gaddo accused, that their choices are absolutely right for any other woman who finds herself in a similar situation.
Sarah and Bristol simply talked about the difficult circumstances they faced and the decisions that they about how to best handle them. That’s it.
Had those decisions been different, and Sarah and Bristol talked about the heartbreaking decision to end their pregnancies, they would have been held up as brave and empowering for discussing it.
Yet, when they chose to give life to their children and discuss that, they’re looked upon as forcing their views on others.
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