But as I wrote yesterday, it's Sarah Palin's conduct that's at issue. We now have no reason to doubt that after her water broke, Palin first delivered a speech in Dallas and then traveled all the way back to her hometown. Yes, she beat the odds by not going into labor. It was a foolhardy maneuver, just the same.
Here's what eMedicine says about premature rupture of membranes (ROM, or "yikes, my water just broke!"):
Most patients (90%) enter spontaneous labor within 24 hours when they experience ROM at term. ...(For a solid discussion of this issue in laywoman's terms, see this article at drspock.com.)
All patients with ROM should be asked to come to the hospital to ensure fetal well being.
In other words, this is not a situation where there are two reasonable alternatives, such as accepting or refusing pain relief in labor. (Yeah, I know some people will condemn epidurals, but I'm not willing to go there in this post.)
After one's water has broken, the major risks to the fetus are infection (which remains fairly modest within the first 24 hours) and a prolapsed cord (which can occur if the fetal head is not securely engaged, thus blocking the cervix). Cord prolapse is less likely in second and subsequent deliveries because the head is usually engaged during the last few weeks, covering the cervix as it begins to dilate. Since Sarah Palin was only at 36 weeks, it would have been prudent to be checked by a doctor, since cord prolapse can threaten the baby's life.
The very great risk in Palin's case was that she'd deliver the baby on the plane. As I wrote in yesterday's post, the time between her water breaking and her arrival at the medical center in Wasilla appears to have been about 16 hours. Afterward, she said she was confident it was safe to travel due to her previous pregnancies. As far as I've gathered, none of them involved a child with congenital anomalies or premature labor. I assume she didn't take to the air with those pregnancies, either, after her water broke. As much as I respect women's body-knowledge, there were too many known unknowns here.
She played chicken with delivering her baby in the air - and won. If she hadn't gotten so lucky, an Alaska Airlines attendant might well have caught her baby. This happens occasionally, and mother and baby are usually just fine. But this was a risky call with a baby four weeks premature and known to have Down syndrome, thus at high risk of heart defects and other physical problems.
You can say this was a personal decision about her body and her baby. Yes, it was. I'm not suggesting Sarah Palin be treated as a criminal like those expectant mothers who've been subjected to court-ordered cesarean sections or who've been jailed in South Carolina for admitting crack cocaine use. I'm only suggesting we consider what this publicly-performed instance of private decision-making says about her judgment and temperament.
I'm not even saying she should be held to a much higher standard just because she has presented herself as a paragon of Christian motherhood. (The hypocrisy of being "pro-life" but then risking your baby's life just to get home is so manifest, I'll spare you my sermonizing.)
I'm just saying that this incident shows reckless behavior more befitting a cowboy than a national leader. We've already had eight years of cowboy governance. We know what comes from arrogance and ignorance of risks.
And if Palin's judgment looks pretty poor here, it's topped by John McCain's in choosing a candidate whose main qualification is her appeal to the Christian Dominionist wing of the Republican Party.