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 By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

"I think abstinence is, I don't know how to put it — like, the main — everyone should be abstinent or whatever, but it's not realistic at all," new mother Bristol Palin told Greta Van Susteren in an interview on Fox News (video below). Bristol's unwed, teenage pregnancy made headlines last year just as her mother, Gov. Sarah Palin, kicked off her vice presidential bid.

Samhita of writes, "I feel bad for her. [Bristol's] story was used by her family and the GOP to make an example of what is considered "responsible" behavior for a teen mom. Holding all that, she is telling the truth that abstinence is not realistic for young people, even if it should be what everyone strives for. Comprehensive sex-ed wouldn't be this unrealistic." In Salon, Rebecca Traister dryly notes that all this honesty was too much for Fox News. As soon as Bristol said what everyone already knew, Sarah Palin hustled on stage to contradict her.

Jodi Jacobsen at RH Reality says it's time for federal government to acknowledge what Bristol learned the hard way and axe federal funding for abstinence-only education.

Here's wishing Bristol a happy National Condom Week. Too bad the stimulus package won't included expanded opportunities to cover birth control under Medicaid. At Mother Jones, Taylor Wiles notes that Obama cut $335 million for STD prevention, and that Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) nixed $150 million to fund the Violence Against Women Act.

Over 600 public health professionals have written a letter protesting these and other health cuts in the stimulus. "A decent society doesn't spent $70 billion on an upper-class tax cut and then cut costs around around the edges by eliminating public health programs that save the lives of the working poor and ease the lives of the chronically ill," Ezra Klein writes in the American Prospect.

After Bristol Palin, Nadya Suleman is America's most famous single mother this week. Society tells women that childbearing is the most important part of their lives. Nadya Suleman, the much-scrutinized mother of octuplets, was foolish enough to take that propaganda seriously. Suleman told Dateline that she felt obliged to use her frozen embryos from previous IVF treatments because each of those frozen eggs is a child: "Those are my children and that’s what was available and I used them." When Suleman says it, it sounds obviously crazy. When the Pope says IVF embryos are little humans, we're all supposed to nod respectfully like it makes sense.

At least Obama is poised to lift the federal funding ban on stem cell research, as the Colorado Independent reports.

Patricia J. Williams of the Nation is concerned about the vitriolic backlash against Suleman. "No doubt Suleman has emotional problems. But rather than caring about her mental health, much of the media are content to pillory her as a drain on the public dole--selfish, frivolous, calculating and cruel," Williams writes. An unmarried, unemployed woman bringing 8 premature infants into the world pushes every button on the wingnut dashboard.

Elsewhere in the Nation, Katha Pollitt writes, "I've received a number of e mails urging me to defend Suleman on feminist grounds. But really, there is nothing feminist about borrowing all this trouble."

I'm not sure what a feminist defense of Suleman would look like. To me, the feminist question is why one woman's foolish decision is generating an outpouring of hate and derision so intense as to result in death threats against the new mom and even her publicists. After all, sperm donors don't get pilloried for impregnating countless single women. As Patricia Williams noted, more moderate critics are calling for increased regulation of in vitro fertilization, as if Suleman proved that women can't generally be trusted not to succumb to baby fever.

Conspicuously absent from the Suleman debate is reliable information about in vitro fertilization and multiple pregnancies. Mainstream media seems determined to infer that Suleman and her doctor were trying for eight babies from the get-go. Suleman's doctor probably went outside accepted medical practice when he implanted so many embryos in a relatively young patient, but there's no reason to believe that anyone expected octuplets. That's a critical detail. It's eccentric and risky for an unemployed woman with six kids to try for a seventh, but it's not out-and-out crazy. That is, if you really believe that having children is the most important thing a woman can possibly do.

That Suleman is unmarried and broke apparently disqualifies her from the mantle of pro-life martyr. Conservatives lauded Sarah Palin giving birth to child she knew would have Down's Syndrome. Yet, many of these same social conservatives consider Suleman a monster for carrying all eight fetuses to term, knowing they faced a high risk of lifelong health problems.

As Elisabeth Garber-Paul explains at RH Reality, it's common to implant multiple embryos during a single IVF cycle because the chance of conception increases with the number of ova introduced. Yes, there's a risk of multiple births, but introducing multiple embryos decreases the odds of a $12,000 IVF cycle failing completely. The answer, for many women, is to have multiple implants and selective abortions in the unlikely event that more than one or two eggs become fetuses.

Of course, Nadya Suleman is morally opposed to abortion. She made a choice, just like Sarah and Bristol Palin. Ironically, many of Suleman's most vocal detractors also oppose abortion and embryo destruction. Few Suleman-bashers have come right out and said that she was morally obliged to get abortions, but that's the subtext. Which is odd, because the pro-life party line for unwed mothers is that whatever "sins" got you pregnant will be overlooked as long as you Choose Life. (Cf. Bristol Palin.)

It's about as logical as assailing Suleman for being a welfare bum and then threatening to boycott companies that offer to give her stuff for free.

Suleman is an unsympathetic character, but at least she inadvertently dramatized the contradictions of social conservatism.


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Originally posted to The Media Consortium on Wed Feb 18, 2009 at 10:22 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  That's How Obvious the Shortcomings... (5+ / 0-)

    ...of abstinence only education are.

    Even somebody raised by Sarah Palin can see through it.

    If spittle & tooth=vigor & youth Bill-O & Savage won't grow any older If wishes & dreams=bitches & beams We'll all live in skyscrapers bu

    by TooFolkGR on Wed Feb 18, 2009 at 10:34:17 AM PST

  •  WTF? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Suleman told Dateline that she felt obliged to use her frozen embryos from previous IVF treatments because each of those frozen eggs is a child: "Those are my children and that’s what was available and I used them." women are supposed to have 24 children per year now?

  •  awesome!!, couldn't have said it better myself (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    even needs a bit of lovin, even unwed christians. Just wrap it up and get tested.

  •  Suleman carries (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the GOP/rabid procreation folks' views to the extreme.
    I think her talking about her eight embryos as her children is the perfect answer to the rabid uterus police.  This is exactly what they are advocating.  Breeding. It's not about "right to life"; its about getting militant about maintaining the white population numbers, because this group is shortly to become a minority. They don't give a shit about 1/4 of our children going to bed hungry.  These children could likely be fed with the amount of dollars poured into anti-abortion political canards.

    It is social engineering.  More religious nuts and more social conservatives: more white babies.

    •  I think we've gone of the deep end, though. (0+ / 0-)

      Jokes about clown cars, litters and such (which I indulged in) have stopped being funny.  There are now eight children who are probably in for rough and short lives and a woman who may have mental problems of her own.  As a psychology major, you can be sure that she has been misdiagnosed enough by her classmates and the blogospehere's misdiagnoses is just piling on.  

      This does not deny the fact that having six eggs implanted at once is too much.  If a mother cannot come up with $7,500 per IVF in our society but has to go for the economy pack, then perhaps she should have her embryos in ways that do not violate best medical practices.  That means two at a time.  

      2009: Year of the Donkey. Let's not screw it up.

      by Yamaneko2 on Wed Feb 18, 2009 at 12:32:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you... (0+ / 0-)

    You've said a lot of things that I've been thinking.  I really can't say anything else except that I hope more people can start talking about this issue together without the anger.  We need to find solutions that work not moral outrage at the things that don't.  

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