Pretty well everyone in the past week has had something to say about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy — much of it suggesting she set an unfortunate example for other teens. Only of pregnancy, mind you; what came before that appeared not to matter to the "teen pregnancy" experts. Here are three takes from the media spectrum.
MTV: “The most talked-about pregnancy since Jamie Lynn Spears’ bombshell of last December,” the MTV website calls Bristol’s five-month pregnancy. The article then proceeds to discuss the problem of teen pregnancy — a sanctimonious move given MTV’s big investment in peddling sexy stuff to its young viewers. (One of its “Top Stories” headlines concerns someone appearing nude on the cover of something — “Check it out here!”) According to the experts quoted, Bristol made a mistake getting pregnant and another deciding to get married (“Just because a relationship is right when you are a junior or senior in high school doesn’t mean it will be right 10 years later”). It is implied that she could well have made a mistake not having an abortion. The only mistake she did not make, apparently, was having sex in the first place.
The Baltimore Sun decided to get some mileage out of Bristol for the comprehensive sex education v. abstinence only debate. A social work academic says declining teen pregnancy rates prior to 2006 (when they ticked up again) could be attributed to school-based health clinics, and to parents talking to their children more about methods for preventing pregnancy and diseases. What hasn’t helped, according to all but one of the authorities quoted, is teaching kids only about abstinence. Bristol’s mum, of course, opposes “explicit sex-ed programmes” — and look what happens, they say.
Slate, a highbrow online magazine, took the opportunity to champion the rights of minors against parents like Sarah Palin and the system she supports. William Saletan argued that Bristol represents a group called “maturing minors” who are treated in law as though they were mere children or even slaves. A maturing minor he says is “someone already in transition to adulthood, as evidenced most clearly by the ability to produce children of their own”. That could be “someone like Palin’s daughter” who is 17 — or it could be a 12-year-old, couldn’t it?
Sarah Palin supports the right of parents to consent to a minor daughter’s having an abortion. She has fought to defend such legislation in her own state of Alaska. That makes her and other parents “owners” of their maturing children, says Saletan. Yet polls show 70 per cent of the American public support parental consent laws. Why? Because they are common sense? Nope, says Saletan, simply because minors can’t vote, just like blacks and women used not to be able to vote. And it’s not only almost-adults that we treat this way; adult women are being told they can’t have a certain type of abortion. Some people don’t want women to have abortions at all. Where will it all end? In “paternalists” finding new groups to own and oppress.
But if things go Saletan’s way we would end up with children making decisions about — what? If they can decide on something as serious as abortion, why not on whether they will go to school, live at home, or anything at all?