Bristol Palin Makes Religious Right “Forget” Its Stance on Teen Pregnancy

Where is the empathy?

Religious right wing organizations and extremist social conservatives have more empathy for Sarah and Bristol Palin and Bristol’s pregnancy than they know what to do with. Everyone from Eagle Forum affiliate presidents to convention attendees have gushed about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, her decision to "choose life" for her child-to-be and the fact that this just shows how darn "normal" Palin and her family are. Sarah Palin’s speech last night did nothing to refute these comments, cementing her position hard and strong as America’s everyday, hockey-mom politician. Palin didn’t even mention the religious right’s support or social issues in any way, shape or form in her speech. Despite this, the pregnancy of Palin’s 17 year old unwed daughter remains just fine with the religious right.

Jessica Eschard, spokesperson for the Republican National Coalition for Life actually called on Americans to enthusiastically rally around the Palin’s story:

"Everybody, especially women as well as men, knows people who have been in this situation before. It makes their family real, which is what we’ve seen from day one," Echard said. "It will resonate with women voters because they’ll say, ‘That happened to me. That happened to someone down the street.’ "

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council praised Palin for "choosing life" calling it a "private matter" (though it hardly seems he’s thought these were private matters before):

"Fortunately, Bristol is following her mother and father’s example of choosing life in the midst of a difficult situation. We are committed to praying for Bristol and her husband-to-be and the entire Palin family as they walk through a very private matter in the eyes of the public," Perkins added.

James Dobson sounded positively nonchalant about the turn of events considering his organization’s support of the biblical idea that sex outside of marriage is "dangerous and unacceptable":

"The media are already trying to spin this as evidence Gov. Palin is a ‘hypocrite,’ but all it really means is that she and her family are human," Mr. Dobson said.

While Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, said, "This is a family that keeps dealing with challenges, and they keep doing the right thing." Humans are "fallen beings," Adams added.

You’d think with all of that forgiveness and understanding, these advocates and leaders would be working hard to help other families in similar situations. But where is that same empathy when it comes to creating and supporting governmental policies and enacting legislation that will provide the same kind of support for young, pregnant teens that are not and, presumably, will not be the children of candidates for Vice President of the U.S.?

In fact, religious right "family values" organizations and their allies have never been anything but judgmental and thoughtless when it comes to providing for teen and unwed mothers. Remember Ronald Reagan’s "welfare moms" that helped solidify his win against Jimmy Carter? Many of these "welfare moms", according to Reagan, were teen mothers sucking our social service system dry by bilking the government for money they didn’t really need, defrauding the system and generally screwing up society by daring to procreate whether by accident or on purpose when they couldn’t afford to support their children without assistance.  Of course, since then, the myth of a "welfare queen" driving around in a $60,000 Cadillac, collecting welfare under 12 different names has long been debunked.

While social conservatives are screaming about Palin’s pregnancy being about "choosing life" and lauding her for her wonderful choice to raise her child and marry at 17 years old, they are equally as angry at any other teenage female (remember, it’s females that the conservative, extremists rail against when it comes to teens and sex) who chooses to have sex.

What the religious right doesn’t get, however, is that those who question them are not delving into this discussion to demonize Bristol but to advocate on behalf of the millions of other "Bristols" that are now or will in the future face a similar situation. It’s crucial that we shine a light on the far right’s hypocrisy (or "cruelty" as Linda Hirschman writing on points out) and the policy decisions that both Palin and McCain consistently make that hurt young people just like Bristol Palin, bar access to programs that can help reduce unintended pregnancies among teens just like Bristol Palin and educate young people (just like Bristol Palin) in order to make healthy decisions about sex.

James Dobson has called teen pregnancy "a moral failure" and the Family Research Council’s then-president Gary Bauer in 1993 had this to say about teen pregnancy:

"If you look at the last 30 years, as a culture we have removed any form of being judgmental about out-of-wedlock pregnancy, as well as a host of other things," said Gary L. Bauer, the president of the Family Research Council, a social policy research organization in Washington. "While at first glance that may seem to be kind, the fact is that when a society has increasing rates of illegitimacy, it is headed for the rocks of decline."[emphasis mine]

What does Gary Bauer say now about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy?

“Bristol Palin and her family understand that a new life has been created,” said Bauer. “The commitment to bring that life into the world is a testament to their pro-life philosophy. I commend them for the example they are setting for other women in crisis pregnancies.”

Meanwhile, the Family Research Council who has praised Palin and her daughter has something very different to say about teen sex on their web site:

Negative Consequences of Unwed Teen Sex

Practicing abstinence helps couples to avoid the long-lasting negative consequences of premarital sex, including out-of-wedlock childbearing, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), emotional problems, promiscuity, and future marital break-up.

The FRC’s materials on "unwed teen sex" go into detail about the likelihood of teens who engage in premarital sex to commit suicide, in fact.

Ah, if only they could be as positive about all teen pregnancies as they are about Bristol’s. Where is their fear over her increased risks of depression, promiscuity, and divorce? But then we are talking about an upper middle class white daughter of a VP candidate and not a lower income teen whose "background" does not lend itself to support from this same religious right.

But Concerned Women for America (CWA) is perhaps the most silent on the Bristol Palin pregnancy considering that they have consistently portrayed teenage pregnancy as contributing to the decline of civilization as we know it:

"The rise in teenage pregnancy and illegitimacy has contributed to an unprecedented breakdown of the family, the building block of a healthy society…

However, there are not only societal costs. According to Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, "when teenagers have babies, both mothers and children tend to have problems — health, social, psychological and economic. Teens who have children out-of-wedlock are more likely to end up at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. … These numbers have enormous economic implications for the country-and for the rearing of children in America."

And that’s not all CWA has to say about teen pregnancy:

How, in good conscience, can a supposedly responsible adult support public policies that would communicate to such girls and boys that "safe-sex" is an appropriate option? Even if pregnancy were not a consideration, youngsters are not physically or psychologically ready for sexual activity. Even if morality were not an issue, the earlier a child begins sexual activity, the more partners he or she will have and the more risk he or she will face for sexually-transmitted diseases — now at epidemic stages among youths under 25.

In fact, in this article, CWA talks about how so few "speak out or even acknowledge the overwhelming risk to youth from sex outside of marriage…" And yet now when they have the nation’s undivided attention, when all eyes are focused on this issue, they instead remain tight-lipped in deference to politics:

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for American legislative action committee said in a statement the family drama had offered Palin a chance to make a "politically convenient choice or the right one."

We who are strong and vocal advocates for ensuring that young people receive the education, information and tools they need to make the best decisions for themselves throughout their lives are told we are "delving into private matters" — even by Senator Barack Obama himself. But what supporters of reproductive and sexual health and rights are doing is linking this situation to the seemingly unsympathetic policies directed towards Americans who are not privileged enough to have the 100% support of their families and the entire social conservative movement — those unsympathetic policies that John McCain, Sarah Palin and religious right organizations like Family Values, CWA,  and others promote.

The Bristol Palin pregnancy story reveals one more disconnect between such "family values" organizations support for white, upper middle class Christian teens and low-income teens whether they are white, Latina, African American. The disconnect is this: if you are a member of the former, you are likely a) bringing another white, upper middle class, Christian into the world and so are to be taken care of at all costs. If you are a member of the latter you are: a) a welfare mom who is "using" the system to her own "advantage" and should be condemned or b) bringing a life into the world that will continue the cycle of poverty and dependence on government safety net programs.

Maybe a better tactic is to ask what a McCain/Palin policy initiative might look like in regards to teenage pregnancy? If, as all of the religious right organizations are now pointing out (and as Palin tried so hard to reflect in her speech tonight) this is what a "normal American family looks like" —  then what kinds of policies will a McCain/Palin administration enact to help these millions of families, young people and their future children? Certainly all of these stories will not unfold in upper middle class worlds. There are one million teens that become pregnant in this country every year. If social conservatives are to support the choice by even 50% of those young people to raise the child, as they have so lovingly and wholly done with Bristol Palin, we must have policies in place to ensure these young people receive social services from the government if they cannot afford them, correct?

And, yet…

Palin, as Governor of Alaska, cut funding in a proposed budget for programs in Alaska that aid pregnant and parenting teen women. She cut funding to Alaska’s Family Services, an organization that provides a range of services for Alaskan families. McCain opposed the expansion of government-funded health care for low-income children and, according to Medical News Today:

In Senate votes, McCain has opposed some proposals to pay for teen pregnancy prevention programs. In 2006, McCain voted against a proposal by some Senate Democrats to send $100 million to communities for teen pregnancy prevention programs that would have included comprehensive sex education that included information on contraceptives. In 2005, McCain opposed a Senate Democratic proposal that would have spent tens of millions of dollars to pay for pregnancy prevention programs other than abstinence-only education, including education programs on emergency contraception.


But Sarah Palin doesn’t just oppose teen pregnancy prevention programs. Palin leads one of only ten states that does not have universal pre-K education for its children. And, according to Palin, that’s just fine:

Palin said she appreciates the need for pre-kindergarten education, but it is kindergarten through 12th grade that she is most intent on helping. "Constitutionally, we are mandated to provide public education and, traditionally, we are talking K-12," she said.


Alaska, because of its oil, is one of the wealthiest states in the nation, so Palin’s position on pre-K education is not for a lack of funding. 

Religious right organizations are leaders of hypocrisy but their embrace of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy and subsequent marriage-to-be verges on the ridiculous considering their almost near obsession with the evils of premarital sex and what they perceive as the "downfall of civilization" consequences of teenage pregnancy.

Sarah Palin’s daughter deserves love and support as all pregnant and parenting teens deserve – no matter what their income level or what family they happen to be born into. Bristol Palin is on the receiving end of the kind of non-judgmental response one would hope the religious right and social conservatives would offer up to all teens in our country facing similar circumstances, as Jesse Taylor at Pandagon notes so well. Yet given John McCain’s record of opposing common sense approaches to teen pregnancy prevention, sexuality education and care for young pregnant and parenting women, in concert with Sarah Palin’s history of cutting social service program funding for these same groups, we have to wonder whether it’s only the white, privileged pregnant teens who will be lucky enough to receive support from this potential administration.

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  • invalid-0

    I totally agree with what you have said. In fact, I have been writing friends and saying the following:

    Sarah Palin was pregnant when she got married and now the same is happening for her daughter. Teenage pregnancy is not something to celebrate. I was a single when I got pregnant at 22 and don’t recall a big brass band celebrating my decision to keep my child. What I remember is the evangelicals saying that women “like me” were ruining the moral fabric of society. That because of women like me poverty was increasing, the prisons were filling up and basically it was the fault of the single mother. And lets face it we don’t need her daughter as a rold model for other young girls who won’t have the resources that she does. What I know about abstinance is that it doesn’t work. Since CA schools starting really emphasizing protection, birth control methods; the pregancy rate has dropped 47%. I think talking abstinance is important but it doesn’t solve the problem. Look at Palin’s daughter as evidence. Teen pregnancy is everyone’s concern.

  • invalid-0

    This is really nothing new. We’ve known for some time now that the “Red States” suffer higher rates of teenage pregnancy and many other indicators of social dysfunction than “Blue States”. We have plenty of data that show abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t work, and that underage marriage is a high risk factor for divorce.

    My point is that these policies have never worked, and social conservatives have long had to accustom themselves to overlooking, forgiving, and minimizing these problems when they manifest themselves in their own social circles in order to maintain their beliefs. It’s drilled into their heads that teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, divorce, you-name-it are plagues resulting from liberal ideology, so any dysfunction they observe amond their allies must be an abberation, no matter how common.

    • invalid-0

      underage, and pregnant….. why is the father not in jail… last time I heard it was against the law, having sex with minors….

  • invalid-0

    Food stamps, rental assistance even temporary AFDC may well be part of the path towards independance. But encouraging young parents to get and stay off welfare as soon as possible is definitely a good thing and its one that the RNC has always supported.

    Maybe… but how about giving teens the information they need to avoid pregnancy and the welfare system in the first place? Real facts about sex, relationships, contraception AND absitnence is something that the religious right has been slapping down for years.

    We’ve been fighting for funding for comprehensive sex-ed for years here in New York. A fight that’s gone relatively ignored. And the results? NY has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation. Informed kids make good decisions. Give them the tools they need to make the right choices.

  • invalid-0

    “It is off limits to talk about her family. Every family has difficulty as they’re raising their children. I think the way she’s handled it has been absolutely exemplary.”
    Senator Biden

  • amanda-marcotte

    I’ve always argued that the right wing position is fundamentally supportive of shotgun weddings.  After all, they are a useful tool in extracting female obedience.  Youthful parenting and wifehood means less college and more dish-washing for women.  Most of their policies are aimed at the bottom line of increasing teenage pregnancy, and therefore shotgun weddings and adoption.


    What they object to is teenage girls who have sex without it resulting in a dramatic act of submission as punishment—either the shotgun wedding or having a baby ripped from their arms while they scream in terror, never to see the child again because it’s been adopted by "suitable" parents.  Teenage girls who have abortions, use birth control, or keep their babies while staying single are the bad guys. 


    Of course, when promoting policy, you have to pretend that it’s about reducing teenage pregnancy, because that’s what the public wants to hear.  But this Bristol Palin situation is a good chance to show that the hand-wringing about teenage pregnancy is, and always has been, a lie.

  • invalid-0

    We’ve seen that policy come all the way from the top with Bush’s (and HHS’s) failed marriage "incentives" for those on welfare. The religious right is clearly just fine with marriage – no matter what the reason. However, their hypocrisy is still simply astounding on this issue. And Biden and Obama are being far too conciliatory, refusing to link this to policy issues and rhetoric that the religious right and others have championed for so long.

     Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • amanda-marcotte

    Too bad conservatives would never, ever take the high road.  But the rest of us aren’t going to pretend that there’s something just in a world where Bristol Palin gets treated with respect because of who her mother is, but the rest of us get no rights and no respect because we’re  nobodies.


    Also, you’re making the typical right wing mistake.  You assume because you believe in unblinking and uncritical submission to authority, then we must as well.  Wrong.  Liberals are just a different breed.  We may consider someone a leader, but that doesn’t put them above criticism, nor does it mean that we fall in line with everything they say. 

  • invalid-0

    Biden and Obama are being far too conciliatory
    With the Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan and US Magazine working the Bristol-Palin-Conceived-Trig-Through-Incest narrative for them 24/7, they can afford to be nice.
    Palin, as Governor of Alaska, cut funding in a proposed budget for programs in Alaska that aid pregnant and parenting teen women.
    Honestly. The funding went from $1.2 million in 2007 to $3.9 million in 2008, i.e., it TRIPLED. All Palin did was trim the amount originally recommended by the legislature, which every governor does with every budget. If the Washington Post examined the budgets of states run by Democratic governors, it could run a scare headline every day that “Governor X Slashed Funding for Education/Health Care/Etc. — and in most cases the dollar amount of funding would have actually gone down. But they reserve that sort of headline for a Republican Governor who triples funding.
    But, accepting your premise, please tell me why you believe that $5 million was exactly the right amount for the program in question, rather than the (1) the $10 million the organization originally requested, (2) the $3.9 million Palin authorized, or (3) the $500 trillion I just made up. Obviously you’re in no position to make any judgment, lacking the necessary background information concerning the organization’s budget or the need for its services.
    Anyway, since you care so very, very much, I’ll give you a question within your area of expertise. According to NARAL’s web site, “81 percent of Alaska counties have no abortion provider.” What percent should have abortion providers, and how much money should the state spend to erect them?

  • invalid-0

    What a strange, unthinking comment. First, we are all free. Second,and to directly contradict you, it is the drones that constitute a large part of the democrat party, and that is unfortunate, that submit to authority because they do not really investigate or seem to have the time to think about anything for themselves. This excludes the elites who feed them the orders, however. These obvious orders are most evident in the liberally controlled media. They feed their drones what they want them to eat and deny them what they do not want them to eat.


  • invalid-0

    When I see people doing a 180-degree turn in their public statements such as those made by James Dobson, it makes me wonder what could have swayed their opinion so quickly. It makes me wonder what back-room deals they have going, and what “donations” are being exchanged. I think this issue should be looked into more closely: follow the cash flow, and you will see the true motives of human hearts.

  • invalid-0

    Though I think this may have more to do with ensuring that the culture wars continue (as Jay Rosen wrote on Huffington Post) than ensuring the victory of McCain/Palin. I think it’s always long term, strategic thinking with these people (smart strategy that, if I may say, the Democrats could use some of). Their about-face though does warrant investigation into the money trail.

    Rationalization and outright deception is the name of their game. These issues are matters for the American people to examine and discuss because of the absolute hypocrisy inherent in the policies that they promote and the rhetoric they espouse for certain populations of people, all the while standing up and screaming about "choice" and "private family matters" when it’s politically expedient. 

    For more, please please please read this incredible open letter to Gov. Palin that Lynn Paltrow, a leading legal scholar and pregnancy rights advocate, wrote today on RH Reality Check:

    An Open Letter to Governor Palin


    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • invalid-0

    What a strange, unthinking comment. First, we are all free.

    Yes, we are all free. However, we are NOT all free to think critically nor is the information we receive free from bias. How does “freedom” automatically mean that peron is thinking critically?

    Second,and to directly contradict you, it is the drones that constitute a large part of the democrat party, and that is unfortunate, that submit to authority because they do not really investigate or seem to have the time to think about anything for themselves.

    You have no proof of this, it is merely your opinion. Neither party is a bastion of critical thought and legitimate investigation. The Republican Party with their Faux News channel and other conservative corporations pumping propaganda into the mass media outlets are just as guilty of not truly investigating issues before deciding upon them.

    These obvious orders are most evident in the liberally controlled media.

    The media is no longer “liberal.” A detailed content analysis recently found that while the media has been reporting more on progressive candidates, the reports have been negative a vast majority of the time. Obvious conservative bias in the reporting was also found in a majority of stories covering progressive candidates. The media may have been more “liberal” or “liberal leaning” in the late 80’s and early 90’s but the media HAS changed. It is disingenious to perpetuate the myth of a media that is obviously anything but liberal.

    They feed their drones what they want them to eat and deny them what they do not want them to eat.

    Conservative media, not to mention think tanks (which far outnumber progressive think tanks) are guilty of the exact same charge.

  • invalid-0

    “It will resonate with women voters because they’ll say, ‘That happened to me. That happened to someone down the street.’ ”

    I’m sorry but this is a load of sexist crap. Women aren’t going to suddenly give leave to their senses because Palin’s family situation resembles their own or someone they know. Speaking of Women as though we are all interchangeable really aggrivates me. It doesn’t matter what Palin’s family looks like and whether she becomes a grandmother at 43/44 or not. Her POLICIES still suck and they suck disproportionately for Women. But we’re all supposed to see a Woman up on the stage with a daughter currently pregnant with an “illegitimate” grandchild, a son in the Army, and a special needs son and think, “screw equal rights! My sister got knocked up at 17 too so obviously the ticket she’s on is the one for me!”
    Do they honestly believe that we are that stupid? Wait, don’t answer that.

  • invalid-0

    “She is not appealing to the same women who were really voting or supporting Hillary Clinton on ideological issues but they think that they can peel off some of these working class women, not college educated, who, the blue collar women who were voting for Hillary Clinton and may be more conservative on social causes” (Mitchell, A).

    NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: Only Hillary’s Uneducated Voters will vote for Sarah Palin. Retrieved on September 4, 2008 from

  • invalid-0


  • invalid-0

    I run a support group for pregnant and parenting teen girls in a small farm community in CA. It seems like almost every week throughout this republican-run goverment there is a new funding cut to the programs that are designed to supprt these teens and help them work to get out of poverty and stay out. We are one of the only programs in the country (and THE only one in our community — which has a high level of teen birth, by the way — that works to get teen moms to graduate from high school and do some form of formal education afterwards and all while maintaining family size until their education is finished. The girls we work with have nothing like the support that girls like Sarah Palin have. Their families are not white upperclass, college educated families that have the resources to put their daughters through college and take care of them and their partners/husbands. The aid programs our girls use are vital to helping them complete their educational and career goals, so that they won’t need these programs anymore. When was the last time anyone talked about giving teen parents the skills, resources and motivational help they need to get through school and get off aid? And when was the last time anyone heard George Bush say anything about giving public funding and social support to programs such as ours that deal with the reality of teen parents?
    All teenagers need love and support along with patience, understanding and correct, unbias information if they are to grow into good, respectful, critically thinking, productive adults. This need is even greater for teen parents, as they are dealing with responsibilities they are not really ever prepared for. Maybe instead of using them as pawns in political agendas, we shopuld actually do something that will benefit the lives of them and their children.

  • heather-corinna

    Hey Anonymous, if you come back round, would you drop me an email about your org?  I moved to the west coast a couple of years ago, and in the Midwest had a group/home like yours I supported and directed others to to give support, and I haven’t yet found a replacement (for charity donations, goods, etc.) since I moved here. 



  • invalid-0

    I was kind of surprised to read your comment that NY has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancies. I’m from upstate NY, went to high school in NY, attended the mandatory health class in 9th grade where both birth control and abstinence were discussed. Of course this was in the ’70’s–I have no idea what’s taught in NY schools now, but I agree with you, as an informed teen I was in a better position to make educated decisions.

  • invalid-0

    I think that a 17 yr old having a baby is the most beautifull thing to happen to politics in a long time. has been swamped by “meanignfull” political parties looking to use it against her. Sarah Palin is great mom and will be a great VP with John Mccain. It actually shows that for once a personal has real life and is really one of us. Obama can talk from today till tommorow about how his grandfather wa sa hero…about how his mother was a “regurlar” citizen…no matter who was before him, he was hands down brought up in quite a lavish lifestyle…Harvard and all. John Mccain IS a hero…not his father or grandfather…he is one himself. Obama..a great speaker…not a great hero. Sarah Palin…a fisherwoman!!! A woman and politician that actually worked with their own hands. I think its quite embarressing that a certain campaign that rhymes with “zarazk oframa” is interested in getting and and to use the sites against these honest sweet and gratefull children of the next vice president of the united states.

  • invalid-0

    I referenced this article in a blog discussing Bristol’s pregnancy.

  • invalid-0

    Bristol is seriously making people see the ridiculousness in the right wing. People are outraged when anyone has a teen pregnancy but when their vp candidate has a child on the way the rules are suspended.