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From The Conventions: Undercurrents and Issues

Opening day at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul was buffeted by both Hurricane Gustav and revelations that the 17 year old daughter of GOP vice presidential pick Sarah Palin is five months pregnant.

Gustav appears to be less threatening than originally anticipated. It’s less clear how the news about Bristol Palin, who, according to a statement by her parents, plans to have her child and marry the father, will play in the presidential campaign.

Democratic nominee Barack Obama responded to these developments by saying families should be off limits in campaigns and noting that his mother was 18 when he was born.

What is the take-away message about teen pregnancies in a race where it features, for perhaps the first time, as a real issue facing real families, rather than a statistic?

In our recent As We Are program talking with two teenage mothers, sex-ed came up in passing. Whatever was available to the young women we spoke with didn’t seem to resonate much. Oregon receives $365,000 in federal funds for abstinence education, although some states have begun to refuse the money. New state guidelines on sex ed were approved last year, aiming to endorse abstinence while teaching safe sex practices.

How much does the cautious discussion about teen mothers in this presidential campaign reflect the parties’ current stances on abortion? Last week the Democrats affirmed their unwavering support for legal abortions, but added a section in their platform (pdf) about health care and education as a way to “reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” The GOP platform committee decided to keep language condemning abortion under any circumstances, a tougher line than Senator John McCain has taken.

What is being taught in local classrooms, through ads, pop culture and now the presidential campaigns, to teenagers about sex and pregnancy?



  • Bob Avery: Republican delegate from Junction City, Oregon
  • Jessica Bogli: Education consultant and trainer and former health education teacher in Oregon
  • Gina Harris: Executive director of Friends First


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