Debate This: Should Bristol Palin’s Pregnancy Be Off Limits?

The sudden pregnancy of Bristol Palin is a touchy issue that the media has their paws all over. When John McCain announced that Sarah Palin was his running mate late last week, a firestorm of Internet activity erupted as “skeletons” came crawling out of Palin’s closet. But the biggest bombshell — that 17-year-old Bristol is pregnant — has opened up a much larger debate about whether the families of political candidates are always off-limits.

I feel really bad for Bristol Palin. At 17-years-old she’s having to deal with a very adult situation — pregnancy, marriage, and the responsibility of being a first time parent. And she’s having to do it with very bright studio lights shining on her — some are critical of her and her parents, while others are cheering on her decision to keep her baby and marry the father sooner than she might have otherwise. I cannot imagine how she’s doing it and with such serenity. While I feel badly that Bristol has to deal with these new pressures while the media discusses her every move, I do think the media has every right to do so, but only to a point. I don’t think Sarah Palin’s parenting should be questioned and I don’t think Bristol’s pre-marital sexual behavior should be judged, by anyone. But I do think the contrast between Sarah Palin’s personal life and her political ideologies is wide open for discussion, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. Sarah Palin is against abortion rights, sex education, and easy access to birth control — three important issues that not only affect her daughter, but all American women. Because of this, I think the media has every right to discuss how the policies she advocates have or have not affected her personal life. While we have no idea how Bristol got pregnant — was she ignorant about birth control or did the condom just break? — the fact remains that many studies have shown that a lack of proper sex education and access to birth control leads to more cases of teen pregnancy like Bristol’s. Additionally, Sarah Palin said she was proud of her daughter’s “decision” to have her baby, which implies that Bristol had a choice in the matter and chose not to have an abortion. Sarah Palin is actively pro-life, which means that pregnant teenagers like Bristol would not have that choice if Palin got her way and overturned Roe V. Wade.

Bristol Palin is not running for Vice-President. She didn’t actively choose to become pregnant just a few short months before her mother was selected as John McCain’s running mate. And she certainly did not ask to be dragged into a national debate on sex education, birth control, and abortion. She should have the right to be pregnant in privacy and be afforded the same solitude of other children of political candidates. She should not have to be the poster child for either the pro-life movement or the pro-sex education movement. But she is going to be used by both — those who are anti-choice are going to laud her for her brave decision to face her responsibility and raise her child, even if she did not plan on becoming pregnant. And if they are going to praise her for those decisions, and praise her mom for raising such a strong girl “with a respect for life”, than those who would like to make sure all brave girls have access to proper, thorough sex education and birth control options should be able to discuss it too. The families of politicians are trotted out as examples of what wonderful, healthy, and commendable personal lives these politicians lead — but why aren’t we allowed to discuss those same families when things aren’t so rosy and pristine?

Hopefully Bristol can walk out of this situation with a beautiful, healthy baby, a supportive husband and father, and parents who really would have supported her no matter what her decision had been. And hopefully she knows that despite having her personal business being dragged into the middle of such a personal debate for many Americans, no one — not myself and not the rest of the media — wants her to be personally vilified.