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In a stroke of media mastery, Bristol Palin harnessed the Palin-family-doting Fox News last night to announce a powerful (and decidedly non-Fox News) message for policy makers: abstinence only is "not realistic." The new teen mom also told Great Van Susteren that she would "love to be an advocate to prevent teen pregnancy." Making this announcement on one of the most watched, and most conservative, news stations in the nation is already a pretty good display of her ability to reach a large swath of Americans (particularly the most difficult to reach on this issue.)
As we all remember, Bristol and her unplanned pregnancy dominated the national news for a month during the Presidential campaign. Yet this is really the first time we've heard from Bristol herself. It appears she is striking out on her own. In fact, she told her mother about the interview, and her plans to discuss teen pregnancy prevention during it, just the day before. Some have spun this story as Bristol attacking her mother's abstinence-only policies. She clearly is not, but she is finding her own voice. (Anyway, it appears Governor Palin is reconsidering her position. She makes an appearance during the interview and admits that the abstinence-only approach is, as she puts it, "naive" which, in itself, is big news the main stream media has yet to pick up on.)
What the interview reveals is that Bristol is lovely, humble, honest, no doubt still a teenager and refreshingly free of any political agenda--except to use her experience to steer teens away from the same fate. In startling candidness, Bristol expresses the conflicting emotions that come packaged with teen parenthood; her love for her child and of motherhood and her belief that waiting ten years before becoming a parent would have been a better path.
"I like being a mom, I love it. Just seeing him smile and stuff, it's awesome...It is very challenging but it's so rewarding...Of course, I wish it would happen in ten years so I could have a job and an education and be, like, prepared and have my own house and stuff... I just hope that people learn from my story and, I don't know, prevent teen pregnancy I guess... It's not just the baby part of it that's hard, it's that I'm not living for myself anymore I'm living for another human being...I'd like to be an advocate to prevent teen pregnancy because its not a situation you strive for I guess...Kids should just wait--it's not glamorous at all."
In many ways, Bristol appears on the national stage just in the nick of time. Teen birth rates are suddenly spiking nationally after fifteen years of steady decline and Congress is about to consider re-funding the failed abstinence-only policies that likely led to this trend. An organization like The National Campaign for the Prevention of Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy could use a spokesperson like Palin right about now. Together, armed with real data, they can educate teens about the real life consequences of sex and lobby for the policies that help delay teen sexual activity and prevent unintended pregnancy. Palin has already won fans in the organization. One is Bill Albert, Chief Program Officer. He described Palin as 'brave.'
"There has to be some real passion, great inner fortitude to come forward to talk about these issues," Albert explained, "she said something very powerful--'I wish I had waited, I wish this beautiful event could have happened in ten years.' She said it in her own words and it was not an anti-child message, not an anti-family message--it was about timing and what order you want to take life's most important events. If she could turn back the big hands on the clock of time she would have waited. That is a message on target with all the teen parents we talk to. Teen mothers and fathers are the most powerful messengers of all. She already is an advocate."
This post originally appeared on RH Reality Check--Information, commentary and community for Reproductive Health and Justice.