In November 2006, then gubernatorial candidate Sarah Palin declared that she would not support an abortion for her own daughter even if she had been raped.
Granting exceptions only if the mother's life was in danger, Palin said that when it came to her daughter, "I would choose life."
At the time, her daughter was 14 years old. Moreover, Alaska's rape rate was an abysmal 2.2 times above the national average and 25 percent of all rapes resulted in unwanted pregnancies. But Palin's position was palatable within the state's largely Republican political circles.
Now that she's John McCain's vice presidential candidate, Palin's abortion policy (among others) is undergoing renewed scrutiny. The Alaska Republican has long declared herself pro-life. And her credentials on the topic make her the belle of the ball among religious conservatives. But Democrats and abortion rights advocates say her stance, specifically her unwillingness to grant her own child a choice to end a pregnancy induced by rape, is drastically at odds with public opinion -- even among many Republicans.
"This is absolutely outside the mainstream. Even in South Dakota they rejected [outlawing abortion in cases of rape] in '06 because it has gone too far and everyone can identify that in a case of rape or incest a woman should have the chance to make the decision with their family or doctor," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro Choice America. "Women voters are going to reject both her and John McCain, and I think we see it specifically because we reach out to Republicans and independent pro-choice women. They live in the suburbs and exurbs. They are very much part of the mainstream America. And woman in general will reject that ticket."
Palin makes no secret of her abortion views. A member of the group Feminists for Life, she told the Alaska Right to Life Board in 2002 that she "adamantly supported our cause since I first understood, as a child, the atrocity of abortion." In an Eagle Forum Alaska questionnaire filled out during the 2006 gubernatorial race, Palin again stated that she is against abortion unless a doctor determined that a mother's life would end due to the pregnancy.
"I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society," she wrote, "we cannot condone ending an innocent's life."
But it's not just abortion policy that has Democrats up in arms over Palin. In that same 2006 questionnaire, the soon-to-be governor said she would fund abstinence-only education programs in schools. "The explicit sex-ed programs," she added, "will not find my support." The stance, which reflected the priorities of the GOP, nevertheless led to an incredulous editorial in the Juneau Empire.
"Abstinence may be a laudable goal, but failing to educate teenagers about how to protect themselves from disease or unintended pregnancy is tragically misguided. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, abstinence-only programs do not reduce sexual activity, teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Every day 10,000 U.S. teens contract a sexually transmitted disease, 2,400 get pregnant and 55 contract HIV. Unintended pregnancies happen to Republicans, Democrats and people of all faiths."
While Palin's positions have drawn the ire and concern of the pro-choice and progressive community, they are largely -- save abortions in the case of rape -- in line with John McCain's own stances. The Senator is against federal funding of birth control and sex education. He has called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade and received a zero rating from NARAL. Once, aboard the Straight Talk Express, McCain was asked if he supported the use of contraception or President Bush's abstinence-only education program to stem the spreading of AIDS.
"After a long pause, he said, 'I think I support the president's policy.' Does he believe that contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV? After another long pause, he replied, "You've stumped me."