Email this article to a friend

The ITT List

Wednesday, Feb 18, 2009, 11:11 am

Bristol Palin Calls Abstinence Unrealistic

By Lindsay Beyerstein
“I think abstinence is, I don't know how to put it — like, the main — everyone should be abstinent or whatever, but it's not realistic at all,” new mother Bristol Palin told Greta Van Susteren in an interview on Fox News (video below). Bristol's unwed, teenage pregnancy made headlines last year just as her mother, Gov. Sarah Palin, kicked off her vice presidential bid.



Samhita of Feministing.com writes, "I feel bad for her. [Bristol's] story was used by her family and
the GOP to make an example of what is considered "responsible" behavior for a teen mom. Holding all that, she is telling the truth that abstinence is not realistic for young people, even if it should be what everyone strives for. Comprehensive sex-ed wouldn't be this unrealistic." In Salon, Rebecca Traister dryly notes that all this honesty was too much for Fox News. As soon as Bristol said what everyone already knew, Sarah Palin hustled on stage to contradict her.

Jodi Jacobsen at RH Reality says it's time for federal government to acknowledge what Bristol learned the hard way and axe federal funding for abstinence-only education.

Here's wishing Bristol a happy National Condom Week. Too bad the stimulus package won't included expanded opportunities to cover birth control under Medicaid. At Mother Jones, Taylor Wiles notes that Obama cut $335 million for STD prevention, and that Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) nixed $150 million to fund the Violence Against Women Act.

Over 600 public health professionals have written a letter protesting these and other health cuts in the stimulus. "A decent society doesn't spent $70 billion on an upper-class tax cut and then cut costs around around the edges by eliminating public health programs that save the lives of the working poor and ease the lives of the chronically ill," Ezra Klein writes in the American Prospect.

After Bristol Palin, Nadya Suleman is America's most famous single mother this week. Society tells women that childbearing is the most important part of their lives. Nadya Suleman, the much-scrutinized mother of
octuplets, was foolish enough to take that propaganda seriously. Suleman told href="http://healthcare.newsladder.net/submissions/click/RFnT3iAT?c=b">Dateline that she felt obliged to use her frozen embryos from previous IVF treatments because each of those frozen eggs is a child: “Those are my children and that’s what was available and I used them.” When Suleman says it, it sounds obviously crazy. When the Pope says IVF embryos are little humans, we're all supposed to nod respectfully like it makes sense.

At least Obama is poised to lift the federal funding ban on stem cell research, as the Colorado Independent reports.

Patricia J. Williams of the Nation is concerned about the vitriolic backlash against Suleman. "No
doubt Suleman has emotional problems. But rather than caring about her mental health, much of the media are content to pillory her as a drain on the public dole--selfish, frivolous, calculating and cruel," Williams writes. An unmarried, unemployed woman bringing 8 premature infants into the world pushes every button on the wingnut dashboard.

Elsewhere in the Nation, Katha Pollitt writes, "I've received a number of e mails urging me to defend Suleman on feminist grounds. But really, there is nothing feminist about borrowing all this trouble."

I'm not sure what a feminist defense of Suleman would look like. To me, the feminist question is why one woman's foolish decision is generating an outpouring of hate and derision so intense as to result in death threats against the new mom and even her publicists. After all, sperm donors don't get pilloried for impregnating countless single women. As Patricia Williams noted, more moderate critics are calling for increased regulation of in vitro fertilization, as if Suleman proved that women can't generally be trusted not to succumb to baby fever.

Conspicuously absent from the Suleman debate is reliable information about in vitro fertilization and multiple pregnancies. Mainstream media seems determined to infer that Suleman and her doctor were trying for eight babies from the get-go. Suleman's doctor probably went outside accepted medical practice when he implanted so many embryos in a relatively young patient, but there's no reason to believe that anyone expected octuplets. That's a critical detail. It's eccentric and risky for an unemployed woman with six kids to try for a seventh, but it's not out-and-out crazy. That is, if you really believe that having children is the most important thing a woman can possibly do.

That Suleman is unmarried and broke apparently disqualifies her from the mantle of pro-life martyr. Conservatives lauded Sarah Palin giving birth to child she knew would have Down's Syndrome. Yet, many of these same social conservatives consider Suleman a monster for carrying all eight fetuses to term, knowing they faced a high risk of lifelong health problems.

As Elisabeth Garber-Paul explains at RH Reality, it's common to implant multiple embryos during a single IVF cycle because the chance of conception increases with the number of ova introduced. Yes, there's a risk of multiple births, but introducing multiple embryos decreases the odds of a $12,000 IVF cycle failing completely. The answer, for many women, is to have multiple implants and selective abortions in the unlikely event that more than one or two eggs become fetuses.

Of course, Nadya Suleman is morally opposed to abortion. She made a choice, just like Sarah and Bristol Palin. Ironically, many of Suleman's most vocal detractors also oppose abortion and embryo destruction. Few Suleman-bashers have come right out and said that she was morally obliged to get abortions, but that's the subtext. Which is odd, because the pro-life party line for unwed mothers is that whatever "sins" got you
pregnant will be overlooked as long as you Choose Life. (Cf. Bristol Palin.)

It's about as logical as assailing Suleman for being a welfare bum and then threatening to boycott companies that offer to give her stuff for free.

Suleman is an unsympathetic character, but at least she inadvertently dramatized the contradictions of social conservatism.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit Healthcare.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. And for the best progressive reporting on the ECONOMY, and IMMIGRATION, check out, Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

View Comments