Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Sarah Palin's 17 year old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. So why no uproar from conservative Christians (as Sarah Palin describes herself), or from those abstinence-only sex-education Republicans?? Because she's marrying her boyfriend, Levi Johnston, that's why!

How 1950's! That's the decade that saw a peak number of teenage pregnancies (the national teen birth rate reached a peak in 1957, at 96 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19.) Half the pregnancies resulted in "shotgun weddings" to preserve the young woman's honor. Those marriages didn't fare too well, but Bristol's is sure to last through the November election, which is all that really matters, right? (Of those young women who did not marry, over 25,000 a year were sent to more than 200 unwed-mother homes where they gave birth secretly and almost always relinquished their children for adoption. Women who gave birth and kept their children, including the black women who were excluded from most of the unwed-mother homes, faced harsh state policies, including eviction from public housing and denial of public assistance. More on this in Chapter 2 of my book.)

Of all the legal and social changes of the late 1960's and 1970's, none is more significant than the end of "illegitimacy" as a legal category and the reduction in social stigma associated with nonmarital birth. Women now have the choice to bear children without a husband, with the knowledge that the law won't discriminate against those children. They also can choose an abortion...although I doubt Bristol Palin really had that choice, in spite of the fact that the Alaska legislature this year kept a bill requiring parental consent from passing. (You might want to donate to Planned Parenthood Alaska to help keep it that way.)

Still, it's no surprise that the daughter of a prominent abstinence-only conservative is pregnant. Abstinence-only sex education doesn't work. Meanwhile, we haven't heard a date for the wedding, so I'm thinking this marriage plan is, well, somewhat last minute. You see, if Bristol wanted to raise this baby on her own --like the teenage girls in Gloucester, MA -- this story would be playing completely differently.

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