Monday morning, the McCain campaign quietly announced that would-be Vice President Sarah Palin’s 17 year old unwed daughter Bristol was 5 months pregnant. Apparently, the announcement was to counter growing blog chatter from the likes of DailyKos that Gov. Palin’s youngest child was not actually hers but Bristol’s and that the governor was covering for her daughter. The McCain campaign, for their part, knew about Bristol’s pregnancy when they vetted Sarah, so while it was a surprise to many both within the GOP and without, it was not news to McCain campaign insiders.
The story remained anything but quiet during the day. Anyone watching the news (maybe not Fox News, I dunno) or reading it online must have at least noticed the headline. Each campaign’s response was highly predictable. Barack Obama spoke out strongly that Gov. Palin’s family situation was off-limits. McCain’s campaign was simultaneously feigning their disgust at the rumor-mongering at DailyKos and those who would use the information for political gain, and simultaneously trying to spin the story as a great example of pro-life principles (since Bristol was keeping the child and is reportedly going to marry the ‘baby daddy’).
My perspective on the matter: Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter’s pregnancy is not, and should not be treated as, a statement on the moral failings of her family. Such things happen, they happen to many families throughout the country, despite the upbringing or moral foundations (or lack thereof) the families might strive to maintain. Teenagers have sex, parents rarely approve, but they rarely can do much to prevent it… at least in a country that allow their women out of the house.
These facts, however, show just exactly why the pregnancy story does matter. It’s not because it demonstrates a deficit in the Palin family’s standards. It’s because it demonstrates a deficit in their politics. Bristol Palin has become, whether she likes it or not, the poster child for the failure of abstinence-only sexual education.
You see, Gov. Palin is not only staunchly anti-abortion (she’d only allow it in cases where the life of the mother would be spared by an abortion), but also is a member of an organization, Feminists for Life, that is also opposed to birth control, and Palin has stated that she supports abstinence-only education and does not support making contraceptives available to students.
We can only assume that the Palin family’s private positions on contraceptives and abstinence-only education are consistent with Gov. Palin’s public positions and affiliations. Therefore, we see firsthand that such positions fail miserably. We can guess that Bristol either didn’t have access to, or at least was raised to reject, contraceptive use; but nevertheless, she still chose to have sex, much to every right-wing religious zealot’s chagrin. If abstinence-only wasn’t effective for the Palin family, allegedly a shining example of conservative and religious upbringing, then for whose family is it effective?
Today on CNN, “Mr. Morality” Bill Bennett was all in a tizzy over a CNN reporter’s linking the Palin pregnancy story with the debate over abstinence-only education. Taking a pause from his moral outrage, however, he responded to Wolf Blitzer’s question about said debate with a common mantra “abstinence works every time” and that making contraceptives available to teens had been shown to not work.
Well, Mr. Bennett, abstinence may work every time, but if you’re still unclear about the ineffectiveness of an abstinence-only education, you need only drop by the Palin household and ask around.
Blessed thou a new grandchild may be, had Gov. Palin been intelligent enough to make proper education and access to contraceptives available to her family, her daughter’s situation wouldn’t be making a further mockery of the far-right theocratic agenda.