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Can Bristol Palin finally admit that abstinence education is garbage?

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Bristol Palin just revealed that she’s pregnant with her second child out of wedlock, and as suspected, she’s being ridiculed for being a hypocrite on quite a few social issues. While she is on the record against gay marriage and reproductive rights, the most laughable component of the story has to do with how Palin made hundreds of thousands of dollars working for the Candies Foundation, an organization that attempts to prevent teen pregnancy through abstinence education.

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I don’t really care to get into the gossipy details of Palin’s personal life. Insulting her and taking a tabloid approach fails to achieve anything substantive. Sure, Dan Savage made a great point about how the right-wing would tear the Obama family apart if one of their daughters had gotten pregnant out of wedlock. But that doesn’t mean the left has to do the same.

Instead, I want to focus on the failure of abstinence-only education, and how states like Mississippi still refuse to equip teens with the knowledge necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. It’s a much larger problem than most people realize, especially when considering that red states tend to have the highest rate of teen pregnancies and STIs. In fact, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted pregnancies, Mississippi has 42.6 unwanted pregnancies per 1,000 girls. Comprehensive sex education, which includes information on contraceptives, is not allowed in Mississippi. If sex ed is taught at all, abstinence-only lessons are mandatory.

By contrast, New Hampshire has roughly 12.6 births per 1,000 girls, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the lawmakers in the state ensured that educators emphasize comprehensive sex ed. It turns out that when you inform people on things like oral birth control and condoms, they’re more likely to use them.

Conservative taxpayers should also be aware that red states like Mississippi spent a whopping $137 million on teen pregnancies in 2010 alone, while New Hampshire spent $19 million. If being fiscally conservative is genuinely a part of Republican ideology, it would make sense to support comprehensive sex ed and abandon the idea that shaming people will prevent them from having sex.

The case studies we see in red and blue states speak for themselves, but there is also scientific research backing the effectiveness of comprehensive sex ed. Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that teenagers who received some type of comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. However, a  federal report showed that abstinence-only programs had “no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence.”

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When a very public pro-abstinence spokesperson like Bristol Palin fails in practicing what she preaches, it’s time for much-needed self-awareness. Palin has an opportunity to use her life experiences for positive changes in society. It would be extremely difficult to stand up to her family and the political party she has sided with for so long. But I would argue that it’s even harder to keep advocating for failed policies when you’re a perfect example of their shortcomings.


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