In the past week, Sarah Palin (the recently appointed vice presidential candidate for the Republican party) has announced the pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, and openly expressed support for Bristol while proclaiming her loyalties to the “Feminists For Life” anti-abortion group. Many, including Barack Obama, have articulated that media speculation on this matter be quieted, as the pregnancy is a private family issue.
Sarah Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy is not, I argue, a “private family issue” but something much bigger. I passionately believe (as a supporter of contraception education) that the uncovering of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy should serve as a long-awaited illumination of the grim outcome of abstinence-only or abstinence-centered education.
Pro-life opposes abortion. Pro-choice advocates freedom of choice, not abortion. Therefore, it is safe to say that nobody directly advocates abortion. A similar thought process can be applied to the issue of teen pregnancy. Few would wish such an early pregnancy upon their intelligent, privileged but understandably naïve 17-year-old daughter. So we must ask: isn’t Sarah Palin’s “steadfast support” of Bristol’s pregnancy purely circumstantial? Does it really show her support of family values (as GOP loyalists and anti-abortion groups claim)? Perhaps it does convey a certain allegiance to her family ideal. But, as voters, we must ask ourselves: is this an ideal with which we agree?
The case of Bristol Palin (as a teen to become pregnant despite abstinence-only education) is only one among many. If Palin is elected into office, more dollars (in addition to Bush’s $1 billion already contributed) will be poured into abstinence-only education programs in our public school system, thus exacerbating their entirely useless or negative effects. A study by Congress last year confirmed that teens with abstinence-only education were just as likely to have sex as those in other forms of sexual education, and had, on average, the same amount of partners. Dr. Lisa Henry-Reid, head of adolescent and young adult medicine at Chicago’s Stroger Hospital, points out that “Teenagers are constantly exposed to sexual images, and to deprive them of the tools they need to make informed decisions [about birth control] is egregious.”
Incidentally, I just returned from a semester abroad in Greece, where contraceptive use is the lowest in Europe but abortion rates are the highest. I also spent a semester in Mexico, where multiple teen pregnancies are rampant partly as a result of the lack of contraception education. In Guanajuato (the state where I lived), almost 20 percent of pregnancies are of women aged 19 or younger, and the average birthrate per woman is 7.8. Thus, I can sympathize with Henry-Reid’s point that encouraging complete abstinence to teens (coupled with a lack of education on contraceptive use) is, in most cases, simply futile.
So: as liberals, as women, as pro-choicers, as democrats, as Obama-supporters (despite Obama’s polite decision to not press this issue), I believe that we must continue to shed light on Sarah Palin’s reaction to her daughter’s pregnancy. Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky may have been a private family issue, for neither Hilary’s reaction at the time nor Bill’s subsequent behavior would directly influence the education of millions of children in public schools. But, Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is very much a public issue, as it draws attention to her mother’s conservative stance on sexual education at this crucial time in the election process.