In Defense of Bristol Palin and Abstinence

| by National Campaign
By Amy Kramer

I went to NYC yesterday because my boss, Sarah Brown, was one of the panelists at a National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy event. Bristol Palin was also a panelist.

Bristol is a parenting teenager - like hundreds of thousands of other girls in this country, she got pregnant and had a baby last year. She and her boyfriend have broken up (as is usually the case in these situations) and she is urging other teens to avoid what she's been through. She loves her son, as most moms do, but she says she wishes she had waited. Waited to have sex, waited to have a baby, waited a little longer before growing up this way. And people are attacking her for it.

I don't get it. She's a kid who made some mistakes and she's warning others not to make the same ones. If she were a recovering addict urging young people not to use drugs no one would call her a hypocrite. If she had killed someone (killed someone!) while driving under the influence and was warning other teens about drinking and driving she'd be hailed as courageous. If she had a history of disordered eating and was reaching out to young girls about forming healthy relationships with food she'd be a hero. Why is this any different? I think more of us who have learned from past experiences should work to save others from the heartache we've had.

She's saying that abstinence - that is, not having sex - is the only foolproof way of avoiding pregnancy. She's right. The audience at this panel discussion yesterday was mostly teens - some as young as seventh grade. Not having sex is a great option for them and they should feel secure in making the decision to wait. Half of high school students are sexually active and half are not. The half that are not need to feel supported in that choice - because it's not an easy one and because it works.

Others on the panel, my boss included, talked about contraception, and that's enormously important too. Teens and young adults (and sexually active people of every age) need to know about all the methods of birth control that are available to them and they need to use them if they don't want to get pregnant. But the bigger issue is making the decision in the first place to delay having children - which is really what Bristol is talking about. On the panel and in media interviews she talked about how hard parenting is, how it's a 24/7 job that rearranges your priorities, separates you from your friends and your future, and leaves you exhausted all the time. It's enormously rewarding for sure, but its better suited for someone older, settled, secure and ready to do it. Who can disagree with that?

I think the venom directed at Bristol is actually about politics, and the vitriol many feel for her mother. I'm no fan of Sarah Palin and I disagree with her on nearly everything, but this isn't about her. Teen pregnancy and parenting are not political issues. They are social issues, public health issues, economic issues and cultural issues. And they affect all of us - to the tune of more than $9 billion annually, by the way - whether or not we personally know any pregnant girls or have parenting teens in our schools, neighborhoods or families.

Give Bristol a break. She's doing what she thinks is right and what she's saying actually is right. She's a teenager speaking to other teens publicly about a topic that most adults find too awkward to discuss with their own children. She is trying to help others avoid what's been through and I think she's brave for doing it.