Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

An Open Letter to Sarah Palin

Dear Ms. Palin,

Last week, when I first learned that John McCain had selected a woman as his running mate, I admit that I was excited.  Although I decided a long time ago that I was voting for Barack Obama, I have respected John McCain since his first attempt to run for president and at first thought that his selection of you as running mate was somehow a sign that the Republican Party was moving forward.

Boy, was I wrong.

First of all, I would like to apologize in advance for yet again dragging your pregnant teenage daughter, Bristol, into the spotlight.  This is undoubtedly a painful and embarrassing time for her, and what she needs right now is privacy and the love and attention of her family.

That said, I simply can’t ignore what her pregnancy represents.  She is a living symbol of why your belief in abstinence-only education is in fact out of touch with the reality of Middle America.

Do you know, Ms. Palin, which American states have the highest teen pregnancy rates?  I do.  As of 2004, the following states had the highest rates of pregnancy within the 15-19 year old age group:

  1. Nevada
  2. Arizona
  3. Mississippi
  4. New Mexico
  5. Texas
  6. Florida
  7. California
  8. Georgia
  9. North Carolina
  10. Arkansas

Out of those 10 states, two (Texas and North Carolina) are staunchly red, electing Republican candidates in the past four elections.  Seven others lie somewhere in the middle.  California stands as the lone blue state in the top ten states for teen pregnancy.

The majority of U.S. states leave the decision of whether or not to teach sex education up to the school district; unfortunately, many of those school districts opt for not, or instead disseminate inaccurate information.  Arizona (#2), for example, has been accused of teaching biased and outdated information on pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. In Mississippi (#3), it’s a requirement that abstinence-only education be taught (however, it is not required that birth control methods be explained at all).  Georgia (#8) actually requires that sexuality be taught, however, abstinence must be stressed and birth control education is not required. Several of the other states don’t require that sex education be taught at all; those that do are only required to teach sexuality, with an emphasis on abstinence.  Overall, one third of secondary schools in the United States avoid teaching sex education entirely.

$1.3 billion has been spent on abstinence-only education programs, but Ms. Palin, I’m having a hard time seeing how these programs work.  As I’ve shown you (and as you probably already know, being such a staunch supporter), those very states that have failed to educate their youth about sex are the same states you are pandering to.  Those states are the most likely to vote for you, despite the fact that another Republican presidency is bound to produce more babies amongst their teenage children.

Abortion needn’t even enter the discussion here, Ms. Palin; although I’m pro-choice, I understand where you’re coming from and respect your beliefs about life. What I do not – and will never – respect is your ignorance toward what average Americans really need. What they need is education about sex so that their daughters don’t end up in the same predicament as yours.

5 Comments

  1. Right on. Sorry to go a bit on a tangent but imagine that this is the same kind of programs that are financed by PEPFAR in ssAfrica in the HIV prevention fields.
    And then they wonder why all the money invested by PEPFAR is not paying more dividend.
    Measurements by any agencies worldwide (WHO, Gates foundation etc) showed that abstinence programs just don’t work.
    again sorry for the tangent.

  2. Lova,

    Totally not a tangent, don’t apologize! Bush’s Global Gag rule breaks my heart, as does PEPFAR’s lack of responsibility when it comes to women. The fact that they won’t work with sex workers is just sad…those women, regardless of why they’re doing the work they do, deserve the same attention and knowledge as anyone else; the fact that Bush/Republicans don’t care about the rest of society speaks volumes.

  3. That last paragraph is perfect. I understand where pro-life is coming from. But what I don’t get is why they believe taking the hush hush stance towards teaching everything an educated person should know about sex before they make the decision of whether or not to have it.

    It seems as though they believe that if all you teach is abstinence only, then the only understanding of sex that teens will have is not to have it. Which in the reality we currently live in, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    The reality of it is that having sex is a personal choice. Some will feel abstinence is right for them and some won’t. So put it all on the table. Lets be honest about what sex is in the 21st century and how to go about it responsibly.

  4. Err, what I wonder is why didn’t she teach abstinence to her girl? What she couldn’t implement at her home, how can she talk about implementing it anywhere else? And how can people believe her?

  5. @Myke and @Amit – EXACTLY.

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