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Biden or Palin: who's really pro-life?

When Republican nominee John McCain chose the little-known Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, 44, to be his running mate, he obviously saw three things she would bring to the ticket: she's a woman, she's young and she's pro-life.

Questions about Palin's experience, or lack of it, become more acute when you compare her to Barack Obama's choice of running mate.

There is no question that Joe Biden adds heft to the Democratic ticket. He's a Roman Catholic from a blue collar background, two constituencies in which Obama is weak. He has a solid background in foreign affairs and military policy, after six terms in the Senate, where he chairs the foreign relations committee. He recently returned from Georgia where he was consulted by the Georgian government. As the conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan put it, "he's a senator who doesn't just call foreign leaders – they call him."

The scrappy Biden will also do for Obama what James Carville did for Bill Clinton – act as an attack dog. The Globe and Mail calls his selection a sign of "a welcome determination to take the fight to the Republicans on their home turf of national security."

One element of the Obama-Biden ticket will come more to the fore now that Sarah Palin's pro-life credentials are so high-profile. Both Democrats are pro-choice, despite Biden's Catholicism. Does this mean Democrats will lose the pro-life vote? Not necessarily. Democrats have made a significant shift in their abortion policy. Besides the commitment to choice, their platform explicitly states that there should be a reduction in the number of abortions.

Obama and Biden have statistics to rally in their favour in appealing to social conservatives. For openers, most data now show the pro-choice approach to be more effective at achieving ostensibly pro-life goals: reducing both the number of late-term abortions and the number of abortions overall. Key to the issue is preventing unwanted pregnancies. Pro-choice figures like Obama are the ones who champion wider access to birth control, and it's been pro-choice elected officials who've fought for insurance coverage of the procedure and the introduction of new and more effective contraceptives. Only 11% of sexually active American women forego contraception, and this 11% account for half of the abortions in the US. Obama and Biden support the comprehensive sex-ed programs that have been proven to work. McCain and Palin support no-sex-until-marriage programs which have been proven to fail.

Abortion won't be the major issue in November, the economy will. But Obama and Biden will need votes wherever they can get them, and the pro-life faction may take another look at the Democratic ticket if they realize it's the real pro-life ticket.



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