Notes on Sarah Palin, Politics and Teenage Pregnancy

By Christine Cupaiuolo — September 3, 2008

– The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, makes a good argument on the limits of family privacy when there are important public issues at stake. In a column reprinted at RH Reality Check, Haffner writes that the unplanned pregnancy of Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter “raises legitimate questions about Gov. Palin’s positions on sexuality education, teenage pregnancy and reproductive choice. Americans have every right, and American media the responsibility, to explore those questions without exploiting the child involved.”

– Funny that Rachel today cited a section of the Republican Platform that claims the party has “a moral obligation to assist, not to penalize, women struggling with the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy.”

The Washington Post notes that Palin used her line item veto to slash funding for programs that serve teenage mothers:

After the legislature passed a spending bill in April, Palin went through the measure reducing and eliminating funds for programs she opposed. Inking her initials on the legislation — “SP” — Palin reduced funding for Covenant House Alaska by more than 20 percent, cutting funds from $5 million to $3.9 million. Covenant House is a mix of programs and shelters for troubled youths, including Passage House, which is a transitional home for teenage mothers.

According to Passage House’s web site, its purpose is to provide “young mothers a place to live with their babies for up to eighteen months while they gain the necessary skills and resources to change their lives” and help teen moms “become productive, successful, independent adults who create and provide a stable environment for themselves and their families.”

Michelle Cottle at TNR says it best:

I’m sorry, but a politician who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and who opposes comprehensive sex education should be at the forefront of championing support systems that make it easier for young mothers to keep their babies. […]

Surely a program aimed at assisting the most desperate of young mothers — those whose boyfriends aren’t amenable to a shotgun wedding or who don’t have a strong family support system — would be something a pro-life feminist such as Palin would work to expand not destroy.

– On the subject of working mothers, Ann Friedman suggests changing the conversation from can Gov. Palin balance work and family in the White House to what is she doing to help other working mothers?

Where does Palin stand on S-CHIP? On fair pay? On paid family leave? I have no idea. But her running mate, John McCain, was rated by the Children’s Defense [Fund Action Council] as the worst senator for children. He supports businesses who discriminate on the basis of gender. He attempted to weaken the Family and Medical Leave Act. And he supported Bush’s veto of S-CHIP. (Gloria Feldt and Carol Joffee have more.)

The real story here is not how Sarah Palin chooses to balance her own life. It’s about whether she (and McCain) are committed to making these choices easier for all women. And clearly, the answer is no.

– FInally, I think Rebecca Traister does an excellent job of summing up the frustration many have voiced about Palin’s nomination:

In his callous, superficial and ill-judged attempt to woo women voters with the presence of mammary glands on his ticket — hot, young ones to boot — McCain has committed a sickening grievance against both voters and those female politicians whom he purports to respect and support. What a failure by McCain to have this woman — with her pregnancies and progeny and sex life and child-rearing prowess now being inspected instead of her policy and voting history — stand in for, and someday, possibly emblemize the political progress of American women, especially at a moment at which women had, temporarily it seems, risen far enough above our gestational capabilities to be taken seriously in the race for the White House.

9 responses to “Notes on Sarah Palin, Politics and Teenage Pregnancy”

  1. Christine, Rachel, others,

    Have to say I’m pretty much for her and McCain. For most part I’m for everything that both of them stand for. Rest of it I’m still on the fence on this. Shes much better then Hillary Rodham Clinton and others like her in my eyes.

    Thats it for now.

  2. Chris,

    Read your very useful post, then Bruno comment as I’d just returned from 3-mile walk in upper Manhattan with other elder women. We are worried about this sort of mindlessness and its commentary on the failure of education in the U.S.

    Had to walk away for an hour, come back to validate what you and Rachel do on these blogs. Makes me feel that all the work of the the second wave was not for naught–even though these white supremicists–yes, that’s what they are–fill air time with their vacuuos comments.

    Doing voter registration tonight in Harlem and hope it counteracts whatever rightwing church gathering your commenter might attend.

    yours, naomi

  3. Naomi, Chris, Rachel, and the others,

    To me I feel that 2nd wave feminists are still stand for what the US mainstream feminism organizations stand for. Which is for pro-choice and do understand it. Feel that its should between pro choice and pro lifers. I feel its time to move on from the way its been for the past half an century to equal footing. Mean less of pro choice. More of the middle of pro choice and pro life. So that you don’t alternate women or men as well now and in the future.

    Hope I made sense here. Think thats it for now.

    Thanx for this wonderful blog.

  4. Margie,

    Why do you think that Sarah Palin is an anti-woman born into an female body? To me I’m against that shes an anti-woman. Please see the rest of my other comment on her.

  5. I have found conflicting information on whether or not Palin is for or against birth control. I do believe any women who is not legislatively pro-choice is anti-woman. It is fine if you personally choose not to abort, but telling someone else they must carry a baby to term is anti-woman.

    I found this quote on one website. Like I said it has been conflicting information regarding her position on birth control. Perhaps it is ok for married couples, but not single adults in her opinion? “Palin is adamantly opposed to reproductive rights. She opposes abortion including in cases of rape and incest. She opposes birth control, emergency contraception and just like McCain, is all about abstinence-only education.”

  6. Children’s rights are a mess in this country. A child who is pregnant can be forced by its parents to carry to term another child, whose right to life exceeds its parents’. On one end, parents prevail; on the other, the unborn. The poor teen in the middle is without rights or respect or a fair chance.

    Bristol Palin will marry an immature boy incapable of meeting the needs of her or children yet. He will resent it; and act out. She will be dutiful and shamed. This will lead to depression and deprivation of opportunity. The new child will sense what it cannot explain. All the people will try, and all possible scenarios involve hardship, so I wish Bristol Palin a deep well of strength from which to give and give and survive. It matters. Bristol Palin matters. Every child matters.

    Teens are blessed with/marked by a dangerous lack of reality and we know why. The brain is not yet wired for adult judgment yet it’s attacked by hormones. That’s what immature is. That’s what education is for, and parental responsibility is about. (It’s also why we use them for wars, but that’s another post.)

    It is not the end of the world, tho, Bristol. Outside of Alaska, where your mother cut funding for programs to help teen mothers adjust and to learn the skills you’ll need to parent well, there are places and people you can tap for support. Your child needs you to find them. Chances are you’re not going to finish growing up in The White House or go to Stanford, but maybe you can do something equally strong-headed and take the road out of town. It’s a huge world and a small planet: Go be and become!

    Best wishes,


  7. Sarah Palin’s catapult to political stardom has me thinking. I’ve always been an advocate for women’s rights, opportunity, promotion and power. I like the idea of seeing a woman in the oval office someday.

    It also has me thinking about her daughter, Bristol’s, pregnancy.

    I’m uncomfortable with the notion that the subject of teen pregnancy is not up for public discussion. We needn’t discuss Bristol herself, but the ramifications of teen pregnancy to our policies and our country’s future is a discussion worth having.

    If I’m not mistaken, the Evangelical and socially conservative right has made private decisions that of public domain, with pregnancy and the choices surrounding pregnancy a PUBLIC matter for decades. At least the last 4 presidential elections featured debates that asked the candidates to hypothesize how they would handle their minor (female) child coming home to tell them she was pregnant. All of the candidates posed an array of answers that referenced a decision (a choice) that needs to be made – even the decision to carry a pregnancy to term.

    For that reason, I am unwilling to be silent about Bristol’s pregnancy now.

    Bristol’s pregnancy is a paradox, a social contradiction of interest to us because it rests at the intersection between a private decision and the promotion of public policy that affects each and every one of us.

    I was a child of teen parents who went through all the socially appropriate motions after my mother got pregnant: they told their family, (begrudgingly) got married, had two kids in no time and started a business, then got divorced, battled each other, and our family spiraled into poverty. At 18 and 19 my parents, themselves, were still kids. And they handled decision-making and meandering through responsible adult life as adolescents, making decisions that I’m sure they wish they made differently – decisions that, in the end, were harmful to their kids and themselves.

    The issue of reproductive rights has been public domain since before Roe v. Wade. Let’s discuss the real day-to-day issues that affect children, adults, families, and society from a public policy perspective.

    – Abstinence Only Education: We know it simply doesn’t work. Not only is abstinence-only education a failed public policy, it doesn’t seem to work well as a personal/familial policy either. Whether it be my parents or Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, surely, these kids weren’t planning to have a baby and get married. They were just developing a relationship and having sex like many, many underage Americans, and seeking to fill human emotional needs. Let’s get real about the fact that teens have sex and telling them to just say no or take a virginal pledge isn’t solving the very public policy issue that confronts us. We need public education that teaches the biological basics of reproduction. It’s not an accident that the states with the worst teen pregnancy rates and STD rates do not have sex education programs. I’m not suggesting teaching a certain religious or moral code. The truth is that in the absence of a curriculum in schools, many parents aren’t teaching their kids about it at all. Teach kids how NOT to get pregnant, and how NOT to spread disease by arming them with the facts. Even if you believe in abstinence, teaching kids how to protect themselves is important should they ever be forced to have sex against their will.

    – Poverty: 80% of children born to teen moms grow up in poverty in this country, and this has implications for public policy, healthcare, economic aid, welfare/food stamps, education, etc. Where will the support be for these women and children, especially those whose families aren’t wealthy enough to financially support them in their time of crisis? Who will help the pro-life, low-income moms whose boyfriends abandon them after having the baby, who do not have an education, who can’t get a good paying job, and who can’t afford rent, diapers, food, and utilities, let alone little league? This is a worthy debate, regardless of whether one believes in a pro-life or pro-choice stance. Not every child is like Bristol Palin, and not every set of parents is like hers. Many can not afford to financially subsidize their grandchildren because of their child’s mistake (and, yes, the pregnancy is a mistake even if the child is loved). Let’s talk about what this means to society, and how, for those who want to build a pro-life culture, we are going to take care of these kids (both the infants AND their ‘kid” parents) with more robust solutions than either the family or the church will save the day. Are we going to provide for basic needs, education, jobs and financial assistance that, in the long run, support and validate having a child?

    – Psychology: Not all teen parents want to be parents, not all of them “get over” what happened to them, and not all kids grow up in a loving environment as a result. So let’s invent a dialogue that stops pretending that everyone will be OK; one that validates the serious psychological effects on the lives of the children and families impacted and that provides mental health support for these families.

    – Coming to Terms with Choice: In all of the validating of Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign and various media outlets have noted that she “chose” to carry the pregnancy of her Down ‘s syndrome baby to terms, and that Bristol “chose” to have her baby. Perhaps I missed something, but the CHOICE to have a baby IS A CHOICE! Following Sarah Palin’s position on abortion, none of this is a choice, so why speak in those terms? We speak in these terms because we have ALL come to believe in choice, it’s just that we think some choices are more noble and valid than others. Let’s talk about “pro-choice” for what it is – the right to decide when, where, how, and why to have children. Aren’t we a more noble society than the Janjaweed in Sudan, the Taliban or any other group that forces women to bear children? Why would we want to force women to incubate fetuses against their will? The truth is that we don’t. We are Americans and more compassionate to children AND women than that. As hard as it is to admit, we want the right to keep a child as well as terminate a pregnancy given certain needs, conditions, and circumstances. We just want the conditions to exist that are supportive enough that women don’t feel as if they have to have an abortion.

    – Wealth & Reality of Situation: Let’s discuss the reality that the Bristol Palin’s and Meghan McCain’s of the world always have access to legal, safe abortion if they need or want it – the elite have the financial means to afford to fly their kids anywhere to “fix” what are seen as problems the rest of us can not. This is what happened before abortion was legal – the wealthy flew their children to Puerto Rico or London to have their abortions; the poor had their children.

    My mom raised us to learn from her situation – to anticipate the consequences of your actions before you engage in any type of action. I’m only 33 – not that old. We were taught that what you do is a reflection on your parents, your family, and your church. We were taught that when it all comes down to it, the only person you can rely on is you. We were required to go to college (1st generation) and we were expected to find a way to pay for it because my parents couldn’t help us. And while it wasn’t encouraged that we have sex before marriage, it WAS encouraged that we get on birth control if we were, because it would be an insult to our parents, the family and the church if we were to become pregnant before we received a college degree and were married.

    It’s not an accident that me and my sister went to college and got our degrees, didn’t get pregnant before we were married, and didn’t have abortions. This is a direct result of our mother’s leadership in our family, and our own leadership in our own life decisions. We had sex as adolescents and young adults. But we also grew up in poverty, knew what it was like to not afford heat in the winter and food on our tables, took education and parenthood seriously, and knew we needed to strive to reach certain goals before having children. It was our only ticket out. And access to birth control, sex education, and abortion (even though we never used it), made our future and children’s future possible. This is the leadership we need in our President and VP, and we don’t have it in Sarah Palin.

    Jennifer Tersigni

    Tucson, AZ

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