Bristol Palin and the Disappointing “Planned” Pregnancy

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been years since Sarah Palin first entered the news as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 elections, but the former Governor and her extended family just can’t seem to stay out of the media. While the elder Palin has focused largely on spur of the moment controversies like Benghazi, her daughter, Bristol Palin, has worked on “family” issues such as anti-LGBT rights and abstinence-only education.

In fact, Bristol pulled in a salary of over $250,000 from an anti-teen pregnancy organization that advocates for abstinence-only education. What’s strange about this? Bristol already has one child out of wedlock and recently announced that she was having another child, which she acknowledged would be a “huge disappointment to my family.”

Bristol later pushed back against her sense of disappointment and the idea that the pregnancy was a surprise, stating, “This pregnancy was actually planned. Everyone knows I wanted more kids, to have a bigger family.” While the inconsistency of these statements is confusing (and seems to indicate an ongoing conflict in her family about how they should feel about the new child), most observers, including myself, wish her the best with her new child.

At the same time, many in the wider sex-education community are pointing to Bristol Palin as a case study in the unrealistic and ineffective nature of abstinence-only education and are criticizing her for supporting a policy which she herself doesn’t follow.

Thankfully, abstinence-only education largely seems to be on the way out. As the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States notes, “Between 1996 and 2010, Congress funneled a total of over one-and-a-half billion taxpayer dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and the funding continues today…2010, however, marked a significant shift…After nearly thirty years of strong support for such programs, the Obama Administration and Congress eliminated the two discretionary federal funding streams for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.”

Efforts to revive the programs and other initiatives which fund abstinence-only education are still underway. Last April Congress reinstated funding for some of the programs, much to the dismay of advocates for comprehensive sex education.

Public figures like Bristol Palin have a large role to play in the ongoing policy debate regarding sexual education and teen pregnancies. Rather than sticking to her outdated and harmful ideas regarding abstinence education, Bristol should instead focus on her own life experience as a teen mom and work towards supporting measures which could actually prevent unplanned pregnancies. She would help millions of young women like her who desperately need a public advocate to fight for their interests, and in the process, could actually do something about an issue that impacts her personally.

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