- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Being a teen mother is no laughing matter. Being the brunt of “baby bombshell” and “Juno” jokes is no fun, either.

Like the mother of Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, I became pregnant with my first child at 18 years of age and was a married mother a year later. I know of what I speak.

When faced with that untimely situation, neither of us had any “decision” to make about carrying our pregnancies to term. Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, was not the law of the land in the late ‘60s.

So I noted with some confusion how Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, now vice-presidential running mate of Sen. John McCain, asked for privacy for her family when the 44-year-old political novice knowingly chose to put her husband and five children in the public spotlight.

This is a “teachable moment” about family values not to be missed by any parent.

Even more puzzling is how Mrs. Palin chose to use the term “decision” in her statement explaining the weekend revelation that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant and has chosen to give birth and marry.

What decision? What choice? Isn’t Mrs. Palin a staunch opponent of abortion, even in cases of rape and incest?

Don’t she and Mr. McCain hanker to overturn Roe v. Wade, taking medical life-altering decisions from women - including her daughters - as if it was still the late ‘60s?

Clearly, Mr. McCain selected Mrs. Palin as his running mate to set a blaze under the Republican Party’s smoldering right-wing base, primarily for her ultraconservative stance on social issues, especially abortion.

Still, Mr. McCain surely did not select Mrs. Palin hoping to woo great hordes of the dejected feminist supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who lost her scrappy bid to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. Mr. McCain is bound to discover that not just any woman will do.

With Mrs. Palin on his ticket, Mr. McCain now turns up the heat on abortion and the age-old problem of teen pregnancy that had been backburner issues in this election.

But on the issue of reproductive rights, women are far from one accord. Both sides harbor equally passionate partisans who are likely to be driven to the polls to vote.

Whether the abortion issue will give Mr. McCain the bump he desires in the polls among women will depend on whether conservative women rally behind the cause.

For his part, during his nomination acceptance speech in Denver last week, Mr. Obama said, “We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”

Brenda Rhodes Miller, founder and executive director of the nonpartisan D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, wishes the Democratic nominee had spoken specifically about teen pregnancy.

“Organizations may not agree with us on everything, but if they can agree with D.C. Campaign that teen pregnancy is in no one’s best interest, then we can work together,” Mrs. Miller said. “I think that’s what you’re seeing all over America, and it is a teachable moment for the nation.”

Since 1999, the nonprofit D.C. Campaign has worked with other groups and agencies to help cut the city’s teen-pregnancy rate in half, Mrs. Miller said.

Her organization’s data indicates “a stunning consensus among residents of all ages about what it takes to prevent teen pregnancy,” she said. They include parents talking more effectively and more frequently with their children about sexual issues and values, and community-based sexuality education that teaches about disease and pregnancy prevention in addition to encouraging abstinence.

“Where the consensus breaks down is what should happen if a pregnancy occurs,” she said.

The intractable incidence of teen pregnancy, as we glean from Mrs. Palin’s personal situation, is one to which no one is immune, regardless of status, religion, ethnicity or economics. And the “abstinence-only” mantra of the Bush administration and conservatives requires a deeper look.

Some argue that abortion and teen pregnancy are not important during this election because most voters are concerned about the economy.

But teen pregnancy and abortion are economic issues not just for those affected families, but also for those who must pay in indirect ways, such as taxes, to help support those vulnerable families.

The presidential candidates could highlight these critical issues and meet at a bipartisan middle ground for the sake of thousands of untimely or unwanted babies.

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