Sarah Palin's teenage daughter will have a baby. Here's why you may not want yours to do the same.

Women writing about politics, etc.
Sept. 2 2008 4:32 PM

Do as We Do

Sarah Palin's teenage daughter will have a baby. Here's why you may not want yours to do the same.

Bristol Palin. Click image to expand.
Bristol Palin, holding brother Trig

On Monday, just three days into her campaign, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin announced that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is about five months pregnant. Bristol has "decided to have the baby," the press release said, and marry the father, a 17-year-old student named Levi Johnston. I'm so old I can remember when this was common. At least two of my classmates at Shaker Heights High School in 1962 also "chose" to marry their teenage beaus and have babies instead of, you know, going to college. 

It's been a while since I heard of many other 17-year-old middle-class girls making that decision. I've heard it almost not at all, actually, since 1973 when the Supreme Court extended constitutional protection to a woman's decision of "whether to bear or beget a child." About half the teen pregnancies in the United States now end in abortion. But Sen. McCain says "Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned ... returning the abortion question to the individual states" where pro-life groups "can help build the consensus necessary to end abortion at the state level."

Advertisement

Gov. Sarah Palin is also "pro-life. With the exception of a doctor's determination that the mother's life would end if the pregnancy continued." If Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin win the election and keep their promise to appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, and if they subsequently pursue state or federal legislation criminalizing abortion, most teenage girls will no longer have the choice that's been given to Bristol Palin. Once Roe is gone, the daughters of others will be forced to do what Bristol is doing. Whether they want to or not.

We are hearing a good deal of talk about how we must not be judgmental about young Palin's choice. But that shouldn't preclude us from talking about what the world might look like when the only choice teenage girls have is to bear and beget a child. The prospects of a 17-year-old mother in America are not too "private" to warrant scrutiny, especially when John McCain and Sarah Palin would fight for a world in which there are more of them.

The fact sheets from the well-respected National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy describe a bleak prospect: Even controlling for social and economic backgrounds, only 40 percent of teenage girls who bear children before age 18 go on to graduate from high school, compared with the 75 percent of teens who do not give birth until ages 20 or 21. Less than 2 percent of mothers who have children before age 18 will earn a college degree by age 30, compared with 9 percent of young women who wait until age 20 or 21 to have children.

Overall, teenage mothers—and their children—are also far more likely to live in poverty than females who don't give birth until after age 20. Two-thirds of the families begun by a young unmarried mother are poor. These families are more likely to be on welfare and to require publicly provided health care. Eighty percent of these young mothers do not marry, and they will get almost no support from the fathers, who are usually also poor.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.