By Joan Lamunyon Sanford
Much has been said about 17 year-old Bristol Palin’s pregnancy and the so-called “right” decision she made to choose parenting over abortion. But we should remember that what is the right decision for Bristol may not be the right decision for all young women with an unplanned pregnancy.
Bristol is fortunate to have loving parents who support her decision, and all of our youth deserve the same. Loving parents who will support them in whatever decision they make. Sadly, this is not always true.
The decision about how to resolve an unplanned pregnancy, whether through abortion, adoption or parenting is a deeply personal decision for a young woman. Most talk to their parents or other trusted adults, including their clergy. Many seek prayerful guidance from their own religious or spiritual traditions. The notion that their religious tradition would insist that they continue their pregnancy is inaccurate. The mainline Protestant and Jewish denominations that are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice support a woman in making what ever is the best decision for her, including abortion, according to her faith and her life circumstances.
Bristol is also fortunate that she has access to affordable pre-natal care, and that her family has the resources to make sure she has the support she needs to finish high school. Again, not all of our youth have these options, especially in primarily rural states like Alaska or New Mexico.
The Palin family has requested privacy for themselves and Bristol during this difficult time, something we all should have, even though Governor Palin has chosen to put her family and their values under a spotlight. Bristol and her future husband should be treated respectfully, but we as a nation now have the opportunity to learn more about an issue that most of us and most candidates would rather not face, our country’s high teen pregnancy rate, the highest for all industrialized nations.
So before you make your decision about any candidate, state or federal, ask them if they support medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education for our youth. We have a moral obligation to provide our youth with the best and most accurate information so that if they become sexually active, they can make an informed decision to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Punitive, mandatory parental notification or consent laws do not reduce abortion and teen pregnancy; they only drive youth without loving, supportive parents to desperate measures when they are facing an unplanned pregnancy. Young women who do not inform their parents may have very sound reasons. Often they fear physical abuse or abandonment, or their pregnancy may be the result of incest. Compassion demands that we not subject them to more trauma.
Sanford is the executive director of NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice