Sarah Palin has announced that her 17 year old, unmarried daughter, Bristol Palin, is pregnant and will marry the father of her child. I suppose congratulations are in order. I also suppose that not having a baby at such a young age would have been better for the young couple. And no, it's not a criticism of Bristol's choice to carry her child to term. That is a personal decision.
But I'm pretty sure the pregnancy was accidental. And I am going to leap out on a limb and guess that everything in Bristol Palin's culture made her reject birth control methods to prevent an unplanned pregnancy by a young high school girl. It may not have been lack of knowledge; that would be hard to guess. But, then again, it might have been both such a lack and also lack of access to contraception. But it could also be lack of desire to use birth control. Within conservative Christian culture, young people would be very reluctant to protect themselves from an unplanned pregnancy for one simple reason.
It's one thing to get swept away by passion and love and to fall into the temptation of sin. It's quite another to go out and secure the contraception that would prevent pregnancy because that's an admission that you planned to engage in "sinful" behavior. Christians are not as unforgiving as the popular parody of them would suggest. In fact, they frequently understand and forgive lapses of even the worst behavior, something that is to their credit. But what is much less forgivable to them is anything that would smack of premeditation. Go out and buy a condom before a date and suddenly it changes the whole nature of the sin from venial to grave (to put it in Catholic terms - the difference being whether it's premeditated or impulsive).
Unfortunately, that leaves young people very vulnerable. Also, those who don't share the conservative Christian world view would see it as irresponsible. I'm not going to sit in judgment on Bristol and her boyfriend. But there are other viewpoints than the conservative Christian one, and there are some adults who would like to teach their children about responsible sexual behavior.
Abstinence may be the best and safest course. But failing that maybe admitting human frailty and being prepared might be better for a young person's future. The real issue isn't what the Palin family chooses - its' that others have the right to make different choices. And that's what worries me about Sarah Palin's anti-choice position. It's not what she and her daughter decide; it's protecting everybody else's right to make a different decision for their family.
Here's the thing, abstinence may be the best and safest course. It's what I personally would teach any young person, male or female. But I'm pretty sure it's what Bristol Palin was taught by parents who left no doubt that that was the preferred behavior. Abstinence only education and morality didn't work for Bristol Palin because she was a young woman in love. And young people have passions and raging hormones that sometimes override their most sincere intentions. Young people often don't make good decisions; they make mistakes (I'm talking about the acts that led up to the pregnancy - not what she decided to do afterwards).
I'm not going to second guess Bristol Palin's decision to marry and have the child. I wish her all the success in the world. Young women can raise children, complete school and go on to successful lives. It's just much more difficult. And it robs her of part of the carefree adolescence and young adulthood she - and her future husband - could have had.
The take home point, over and above this individual story, is that any parent could have a teenager who gets pregnant. It's not an indictment of that mother's or father's parenting skills. But every family deserves the right to make the decision of how a pregnancy is handled. And with Sarah Palin's and John McCain's anti-abortion position, that decision would be taken away from families and their sons and daughters and given to the government.