Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Relevance of the Palin Pregnancy

I realize that it's been a while since I posted anything of substance. (BTW, if you really want to keep up with what's going on with me, you 'd do better to follow my Twitter feed, which I update obsessively.) I'm actually working on a post now that sums up a lot of things that have happened since my last post, such as The Music Man, our new puppy, Daisy, and Aidan's first day of Kindergarden. I hope to post that update as soon as I have a chance to finish it, but lately a topic has been in the news that I thought merited some attention, but perhaps not for the reason most people think.

Most people have probably heard by now that John McCain has selected Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, as his presidential running mate. Most people have probably also heard about the fact that her unwed, 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. This has been all over the media since Monday, and it has evoked a whirlwind of pontification and speculation by the public and media alike, but for the wrong reasons. Most of the conversation centers around the role of women in the workplace, the fact that the girl didn't want to have an abortion (Come on. She's from a conservative, Christian family with a Republican politician parent; that was never going to happen anyway), or the fact that the young mom- and dad-to-be are getting married (potentially disastrous mistake!).

But I think the real problem brought to light in this story is one that I believe is much more relevant to Sarah Palin's potential as the President of the United States. (I know she is running for VP, but you always have to think of the VP as if he/she was president when evaluating his/her fitness for the office.) Palin is a strong advocate of abstinence-only sex education, which is "a form of sex education that emphasizes abstinence from sex to the exclusion of all other types of sexual and reproductive health education, particularly regarding birth control and safe sex."1 This is a policy position that she has taken and would wholly advocate if she were to take office. That is the part that disturbs me, and that is the only aspect of this story that I believe is even remotely relevant to the election.

Abstinence-only sex education is a flawed method of sex ed. All empirical evidence consistently points to the fact that not only is it ineffective, but it is actually harmful. Rates of teen pregnancy have been found to be even higher among abstinence-only students than that of the general population because it spreads ignorance regarding sexually transmitted diseases and the proper use of contraceptives to prevent both infections and pregnancy.2 As evidence, contrast teen pregnancy rates in Texas and California, two states with diametrically opposed approaches to sex education: 
Texas' policy is to deny contraceptives without parental consent wherever possible and to push an abstinence-only sex education program in public schools.

Experts, though, are questioning that approach. They note that from 1991 to 2004, the state's teen birth rate dropped by 19 percent, while the U.S. rate dipped by one-third.

By contrast, California, which has seen its teen birth rate drop by 47 percent in the same period, teaches abstinence but also explains contraception at school and has gone to dispensing birth control to teenage boys and girls – for free, no parental consent required – in community clinics and doctors' offices.

-- The Dallas Morning News, November 5, 20073
Teens who participate in abstinence-only education also have greater trouble understand the role of sex in their marriage relationships later in life. All considered, it is a dangerous policy that has the opposite effect than it intends. That's not to say that I don't appreciate the intentions behind the policy. Saving sex for marriage is a great thing. I advocate that whole-heartedly, as it can be an incredibly powerful experience for the couple if done properly. But abstinence-only sex education does nothing to promote that end.

So now, Bristol Palin, the daughter of a prominent abstinence-only advocate, is pregnant. She epitomizes the failure of this policy. Yet, her mother refuses to acknowledge it as a failed strategy, despite the evidence in her own home, much less the scientific and empirical evidence. That is the most problematic aspect of this affair. If she dogmatically sticks to a failed sex ed. policy in light of glaring evidence, she almost certainly will do so with other national and international matters. We've had eight years of dogmatic stubbornness. We don't need any more.


Clay said...

Here here, Kyle's brother!

Kara Grant said...

Well said. And, just wanted to let you know I left this page up for a very long time because of the awesome music playing!

Kyle said...

Good points.