Why a pregnant 17-year-old girl is a news story.
Piedmont Post, Viewpoint / Opinion Page, September 10, 2008
When a 17-year-old becomes pregnant, is this a news story or a private family matter? This question was asked on CNN last night when discussing Republic Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's disclosure that her 17-year-old daughter is five months pregnant.
Should we be able to ask about a young woman's pregnancy or is it "off limits" as Barack Obama has stated? I would argue that when we have a vice presidential nominee who opposes sex education being taught in schools and who has a 17-year-old pregnant daughter, then yes, this is a news story.
It is a newsworthy story when any young person who is not old enough to vote and who has not yet completed high school is going to become a parent, rather than focusing on finishing school or going to college. Taken as a single incident, a young person becoming pregnant is of course a personal matter, but the political aspect becomes intensely personal when we are faced with the possibility of the second most powerful person in the free world deciding what the government can teach our young people.
It is also a news story because of the seeming hypocrisy of Governor Palin's views and "real life" situation. She is an advocate of abstinence until marriage, but she herself was pregnant before marriage, as is her young daughter. Republicans have promoted voting "family values" for the past 15 years, and often called those who disagreed with their views "godless" or "immoral" and without values.
What is morality if we are not providing adequate health education for our young people to responsibly enter young adulthood? We can promote delaying sexuality until they are older, we can educate them to wait to have sex, and we can give them the knowledge they will need to make critical, healthy, and in some cases life-saving choices about their sexuality.
Promoting the delay of sex and teaching sex education are not mutually exclusive. We all want our young people to enter young adult and parenthood when they are ready and when they can make the decision to use or not use protection and plan for parenthood.
No one wants a young person to become pregnant before she is ready or before she graduates from high school. No one wants young people to have to hide a pregnancy. We do hope they will make responsible and educated decisions about their health and sexuality. But making a responsible decision is not possible without proper health and sex education, whether in the home or in school.
The statistics are clear: adolescent mothers are more likely to never go to college, to live at or near the poverty level, and their children are likely to have less education and less access to health care. yet, we are not supposed to hav a dialogue about this very important topic when we are asked to vote for someone who opposes what many see as a basic human right - access to information and health care.
Is this a story? Of course it is a story. Democrat or Republic, Independent or Green Party, we all want to protect our children - including the children of politicians. However, when a politician denies the exact education that could have prevented a teen pregnancy or allowed a child a choice by using protection, we have to speak out.
Having a child is a wonderful, magical and life-altering decision. We all want young people to enter adulthood with adequate education, preparation and planning so that they are allowed to live up to their fullest potential and have as many opportunities as they possibly can in their life.
Is this common sense? Does Governor Palin have common sense? Or is she promoting the denial of vital information that could very well save or change the lives of our children. Yes, it is a story and it should be discussed.
- Narda Skov, a Piedmont resident and active school volunteer, holds a master's degree in health education from Columbia University and is the other of three elementary school children in Piedmont. She administered a health program for eight years in New York, specializing in abstinence. She is now a Health Educator and Counselor at Redwood Day School in Oakland.