WASHINGTON – Do as she says, not as she does, Bristol Palin is advising fellow teens, or else they’ll end up like her – saddled with a baby at 18, albeit one she considers a blessing.
That, in a nutshell, comprises the message these days from the 18-year-old Palin: teen mom, daughter to the all-too-familiar governor of Alaska and a decidedly curious poster girl for the cause of teenage abstinence.
Palin made the rounds of the American talk-show circuit on Wednesday morning – a sleeping baby Tripp in her arms during one interview – to promote abstinence on the eighth annual National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Republicans were stunned last summer to learn that the teen daughter of John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate, chosen in large part for her socially conservative ideals, was expecting a baby with her high school boyfriend, Levi Johnston.
The news broke shortly after the Alaska governor, a vocal advocate of abstinence-only sex education in schools, got the nod from McCain’s team.
Now Bristol Palin is serving as the “teen ambassador” for the Candie’s Foundation, a national organization established by the shoe company to educate teenagers about the devastating consequences of teen pregnancies.
And although the group also advocates safe sex for teens, Palin is encouraging adolescent girls to resist pre-marital sex entirely. This despite her remarks shortly after Tripp’s birth that convincing teens to avoid having sex was “not realistic at all.”
She now says that remark was taken out of context.
“Regardless of what I did or anything like that, I think that abstinence is the only 100 per cent fool-proof way of preventing teen pregnancy,” Palin told Matt Lauer on “The Today Show.”
“Learn from my example.”
The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world, twice as high as the Canadian rate.
The social ramifications are bleak: sons of teen mothers are twice as likely to end up in prison, the Candie’s Foundation says, and less than half of teen mothers get their high school diploma. Fewer than two per cent earn a college degree by the age of 30.
“Today” show host Matt Lauer asked Palin if she wasn’t sending a mixed message to other teenaged girls as she sat cuddling baby Tripp and discussing the joys of motherhood while at the same time urging teens not to have sex at all.
“He’s not a mistake at all; he’s a blessing,” Palin said.
But she added that a baby “is not just an accessory on your hip. This is hard work.”
“I’m up all night with him. I’m constantly changing diapers and making bottles. Your priorities change 100 per cent.”
Todd Palin, Bristol’s father, accompanied his daughter on her media blitz and acknowledged the potential mixed message.
“It’s kind of a fine line that we’re walking on,” he said on the “Today” show. His daughter’s role with Candie’s, he added, involves “sharing Bristol’s experience with other teenagers – sharing the mistake she made a year ago.”
The Palins have been front-page news since Sarah Palin exploded onto the political scene late last summer, but much of the attention has centred around a family life that would do “The Jerry Springer Show” proud.
In recent weeks, Johnston, now Palin’s ex-fiancee, has appeared on numerous talk shows to suggest the Palins knew their daughter was having pre-marital sex, something that prompted the Alaska governor to issue a scathing news release calling him a liar.
Palin told “Good Morning America” that divulging the pregnancy to her parents was an ordeal.
“Harder than labour; it was one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to go through,” she said. “And I hope that me speaking out now will prevent girls from having to go through that in the future.”
With the 2012 Republican presidential nomination apparently in Sarah Palin’s sights, some are wondering whether her daughter’s new-found, high-profile embrace of her mother’s beliefs on abstinence might be grand public relations move.
But once again, Johnston was on the scene to tarnish those efforts.
“Abstinence is a great idea, but I also think that you need to enforce, you know, condoms and birth control and other things like that to have safe sex,” Johnston said on CBS on Wednesday.
“I don’t just think telling young kids, you can’t have sex, it’s just – it’s not going to work. It’s not realistic.”