Bristol Palin is back in the news. The Alaska governor's daughter became the most famous unwed pregnant teenager in America last summer when her mother was nominated to be the GOP's vice presidential candidate. Since then, Bristol has given birth to a boy in December and the engagement to the baby's father has ended. This week she took center stage again for promoting abstinence among teenagers as part of Teen Pregnancy Awareness Day -- but she's been greeted with howls of derision from pundits and others who think her actions are hypocritical. But before critics jump on Bristol, maybe they should consider the facts.
The majority of teenagers who have had sex regret their decision -- and that's not just those who get pregnant. We need to worry about increasing rates of teen pregnancy, which fell steadily between 1991 and 2005, but started moving up again in 2006 and are higher in the U.S. than in all other countries in the industrialized world. But pregnancy isn't the only issue that should concern us when teenagers are sexually active, especially young teens, even if they use contraception. Most young teens are not emotionally ready to have sex, even if their hormones are telling them differently.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has been the leader in providing hard, empirical data on what works to prevent teen pregnancy and in studying attitudes among young people on the issue. (I currently serve on the board of the National Campaign, which includes a broad range of public figures, health specialists, and academics whose views cut across a wide political spectrum.) In 2007, the National Campaign published a comprehensive survey on attitudes toward sexual activity, teen pregnancy, and who and what most affected teens' likelihood of engaging in sex. "With One Voice: America's Teens and Adults Sound Off about Teen Pregnancy" includes some surprising findings.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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