Senator John McCain made history by selecting a woman as his vice-presidential nominee Friday. In her two years as Alaska's governor, she has accomplished a measure of popularity there, particularly among conservatives, that gave her the bona fides to play well to the religious right base of their party. Sarah Palin and her husband have five children, including an infant with trisomy-21 (Downs syndrome).
Catholic conservatives sought quickly to draw a contrast with Senator Obama's running mate, Senator Joseph Biden. The implication was that somehow Ms. Palin was more pro-family than Senator Biden. But that message was undercut by a decision rendered earlier in the week by the Republicans to eliminate all language from their platform dealing with common-sense measures directed toward decreasing the incidence of abortion. Senator McCain was left holding only the traditional language of criminalization in dealing with this issue. As Doug Kmiec has written in his new book, "Can I vote for him?" this approach to abortion insures that McCain's party will not succeed in preventing even a single abortion anytime in the foreseeable future.
In contrast, Senator Obama has enunciated a broad-based and well-thought out plan to reduce abortions in America, with a legislative approach that has wide support among Democrats. The issue of Downs syndrome and other genetic conditions, in relation to the abortion question, will be much discussed in the presidential race in light of Ms Palin's selection. But a big part of this story is the role that Senator Ted Kennedy has played, together with Senator Sam Brownback (a chairman of Catholics for McCain), in crafting legislation to help families bring into the world and care for babies with Downs. Regardless of whether an individual supports a more constructive approach to abortion reduction (like many Democrats), or a criminalization approach, both kinds of families today in America are wrestling with the challenges and the rewards of caring for children born with congenital conditions like Downs.