Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Palin's Daughter and Why it DOES Matter

I probably don't know a single person who does not again know someone whose child, son or daughter, has had a child in their youth. In fact, come to think of it, I am positive of that. I had my daughter at 16 years old, just ten days after my 16th birthday. Thus, everyone I know does know someone--me.

This post isn't about judgement, it is about political belief, common sense, how this intersects with religious belief, and what we can learn from it.

Where I grew up (60 miles from where I live today in one of the most conservative counties in the country), conditions on the ground in 1969--39 years ago--were vastly different both in terms of medicine and social climate. My daughter was born in September of 1969 when abortion was still illegal and when access to birth control at 15 through a clinic was non-existent. There was no birth control available to me.

Hormonal contraceptives (first known as "the pill", but now available in many forms) were not available for a 15 year-old and I knew no other teenagers who were using this form of contraception at that time (thus I was not the only one pregnant). In 1969, no one used condoms (I didn't even know they existed!), and the IUD (IntraUterine Device) was likewise unknown to me (today it is the most popular kind of birth control used in the world, though it appears modern western use of the IUD did not occur until 1974 or so, five years after my daughter was born). The IUS (IntraUterine System) followed the IUD and was unavailable in 1969. Other forms of birth control, all less effective, from spermicidals to "the sponge" were also unknown to me and came along later.

In terms of the social world, many families shipped their daughters to Mexico or Europe for abortions (if they could afford it), or children "went away" to a "girl's school", returning with no child. Some stayed and had their children openly, but this was quite rare.

I was the first pregger allowed to remain in high school in my district (I finished my junior high school year six months pregnant) in fact sewing a maternity "suit" in Home Ec for my class project. I can still see the look on my volleyball coach's face when I fell or attempted a radical move. I would look up and he would have his eyes covered or would be staring at the ground with his eyes closed. It was harder on him than me by far. He was quite a sport about it all.

I existed under the watchful eye of an entire high school of moms and dads variously practicing their parenting skills on me. When I arrived to school wet from rain, I was sent to the "nurse" or back to Home Ec to dry my clothes. In hindsight, I really appreciate their paternal and maternal caring of me even though they were often a little over the top. I was in excellent shape, an athlete and, unfortunately, pregnant and they were doing the best they knew to do. I was an experiment.

When I was growing up, unlike the parents I know today, parents never put their children on birth control when they came of age and did not give their sons condoms (which every mother of sons I know does, now). Some kids have some sort of sex education training in public school (though increasingly, they do not) and the world in it's "don't ask don't tell" mode of 1969 which cruised along until a blip occurred on a family radar has largely evolved into a more accepting society.

I never got that "talk" from my mom. Apparently, we were supposed to learn all we needed to know through osmosis. There was no sex education in school. Most kids--and that is exactly what we were--didn't even talk about it. At least the girls didn't talk about it.

So in this climate, I found myself pregnant.

39 years later, we learn that the daughter of the vice presidential candidate who is 17 years old is pregnant. When I saw the photo and eventually heard corporate media on the story, I sighed. How in the world, I wondered, does this still happen?

In writing my piece on Sarah Palin's support of teaching creationism and the non-science of "Intellectual Design" in schools, it became quite clear that she put her daughter in the same position I was in in 1969. Sarah Palin doesn't believe in birth control considered to be abortifacients which includes hormonal, IUD, IUS or other such. Sarah Palin does not support sex education in school. Sarah Palin is anti-choice. Who knows if Sarah Palin did or didn't have that "talk" with her daughter or, given her busy schedule as governor, if she even has the time for her daughter she needs.

What Sarah Palin believes in, and advocates, is abstinence only sex education in school, a common thread found in conservative, conservative evangelical, literalistic and fundamentalist Christian schools of thought and churches. It is likewise the thinking of the Roman Catholic Church. It has also invaded institutions of education, particularly in the last eight years. Another religiously motivated interference with education as I see it.

The problem is, "abstinance only" does not work in reducing pregnancy. Secondly, it also does not work in preventing inevitable sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and studies show, in fact, that abstinance only programs have lead some to abandon the use of condoms which can help in the fight against STDs.

Sarah Palin's daughter--now thrust onto the world stage--is a poster child for this observation. Not only is this making a lot of conservatives nervous, it is making a lot of the religious right downright angry--as I predicted it would. The most talked about woman in the United States who faithfully echos the religious right's mantra on sex education cannot make that mantra work.

Sarah Palin has put the GOP's and religious right's failure up on the mantle for all to see. Now we are asked to adopt this failure and admire it.

I am absolutely the last person to pass judgment on Palin's daughter. It must be rough having a mom that can't really be a mom because she is a governor simultaneous with a vice presidential candidate. Nor would I speculate or criticize her morals. But her mom, Sarah Palin, doesn't escape this easily. If a mom set her child in the street and the child was hit, would the child be at fault?

Sarah Palin is well within her rights to make these decisions for herself. But she has NO right to make this decision for others, including me. And the majority of American women agree and have agreed for decades.

The right to make decisions on contraception and abortion remains invested in the human involved, something Palin with her so-called "Maverick" (an oxymoron in her case) streak should well understand. Freedom is important to Palin, as long as everyone's definition of it matches hers. And Palin's is based on her religion which does not match my belief, and statistically will not match the the clear majority of the 90% of religious believers of various kinds and types that read this and the 10% who do not invest in religious belief at all.

Many pregnant teens, who find little support, end up in poverty and only 3 percent finish college before age 30.
-- ABC News, January 22, 2008

We need to clear the road for proper sex education (to include abstinance) in public schools. Perhaps we need to start with an opt-out program. But a program is absolutely necessary to give kids the information they need from lips that are not going to mix the message with any sort of religion.

Kids become sexual beings as they grow. That is just a fact. We can either deal with that truth, or we can continue to hide our heads in the sand and end up with more kids with STDs and more kid-moms. It is more economically and socially advantageous to deal with the situation that to moralize on it.

Who knows if it would have made a difference in my case, or in the case of Palin's daughter. But if it helps some kids, we should be advocating it.

Photo credit: ABC News