10.01.10

Bristol Gets Political

As she waltzes into American living rooms on Dancing With the Stars, Sarah Palin’s oldest daughter is also ramping up her public speaking. Mike Rhodes reports on her abstinence and pro-life message at her first California event.

Days after earning high marks for a second week on Dancing With the Stars, Bristol Palin stepped out in another very public forum: speaking before nearly 1,000 people in California to promote abstinence.

It’s the start of a new campaign for Sarah Palin’s daughter, who in photos on her official Facebook page, created last week, nuzzles and cradles her son, Tripp, while announcing her availability for speaking engagements. In a welcome message, Palin, 19, writes of “a new and exciting chapter in my life. I have decided to embark on something new and step out of my ‘comfort zone’ in order to tell my story and advocate for the pro-life and pro-family cause.”

Palin’s new chapter kicked off Thursday night in Visalia, where she spoke about abstinence—and breaking the news of her pregnancy to her shocked parents—to a supportive crowd at the Tulare-Kings Right to Life 15th Annual Making a Difference for Life Banquet. While promoting abstinence may not be new for the teen mom, who’s already a teen ambassador for the Candie’s Foundation, her Facebook recap of the Visalia event echoes the messaging of the pro-life movement, underscoring her increasingly public role as a pro-life advocate. It’s a message that’s right on track with the Palin brand: The former Alaska governor has always said it’s not just about talking the talk but also walking the walk, citing her decision to carry son Trig to term after she found out he had Down syndrome.

“There may be multiple forms of contraception, but I’m here to say that one fact remains. Those that practice abstinence have no chance of becoming pregnant,” Bristol Palin said Thursday, to cheers from the predominantly white and affluent audience. “Abstinence is not about morality, it is about reality. It is the only thing that works every time. My message is a simple one: Don’t make the same decision I made, just wait. Young ladies, please hear me.”

Organizers for the event did not allow members of the media into the convention center to record or photograph her appearance, and Palin, at one point in her talk, made reference to the “lamestream media.” 

Telling her parents she was pregnant was incredibly difficult, she said: “I still think that 24 hours of intense labor pains was a piece of cake compared to the moment that I had to tell my parents that their little girl was pregnant... It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I would rather go through labor five more times than have to relive that experience.”

“My best friend decided to blurt out, ‘Bristol’s pregnant.’...My mind shifted to visions of my dad skinning Levi.”

Palin’s conscious creeping into the spotlight, after being thrust into it as the daughter of a vice-presidential candidate and a public example of teen pregnancy, is curious. After a cameo on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Palin said she had no desire to break into entertainment. So could her foray into public speaking and pro-life and abstinence advocacy be a sign that she is ready to pick up the Palin brand? With weekly television appearances and temporary digs in Los Angeles for as long as she remains on DWTS, she seems better-positioned than ever to launch herself as a spokeswoman for the pro-life movement. Her barely week-old Facebook page has already attracted nearly 6,000 fans, and she is said to earn between $15,000 and $30,000 for speaking engagements—though an organizer for the Visalia event suggested her fee was closer to $10,000.

But it wasn’t so long ago that she appeared on the cover of Us Weekly, announcing her engagement to now-estranged ex-fiancé Levi Johnston—a total shock to mom Sarah. “We don’t have the approval of our parents,” Bristol told the magazine in July.

Palin’s abstinence-only message is attracting some criticism. “What is troubling is Bristol Palin’s role as a paid advocate of abstinence-until-marriage sex-education programs,” said Patsy Montgomery, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. “She is proof that these programs just don’t work. California recognizes that teens need medically accurate, comprehensive sex education to help them make responsible decisions about their bodies, and has banned abstinence-only programs in public schools. The result is that teen births in California continue to go down while states that embraced abstinence-only programs have experienced dramatic increases.”

Palin said Thursday that her parents supported her and her decision to have her son, Tripp, who is now almost 2.

“There was a few tension-filled days before I decided to break the news to my parents,” she said. “For moral support I decided to bring my best friend along with us. As we sat down, my eyes just immediately filled with tears. The words wouldn’t come out. It was a terrifying moment. We were all staring at each other and my parents must have been thinking, ‘Why are we here?’ Then, without any warning, my best friend decided to blurt out, ‘Bristol’s pregnant.’ She was as subtle as a shock. Those two words changed the course of all our lives. My mind shifted to visions of my dad skinning Levi.”

April Kesterson, executive director of the Tulare-Kings Right to Life organization, also spoke at the event, and claimed that if the 55 million abortions in the U.S. had not been carried out, the country’s economy would not be in such dire straits.

Tulare-Kings Right to Life used the conference to raise money for billboards, newspaper ads, and other efforts to spread its pro-life message. The Central Valley and Visalia are in the most conservative part of California.

No other members of Palin’s family were at the event, and security was high, with one of the event organizers saying that they were concerned for Palin’s safety. She returned to Los Angeles on Friday, and her next speaking engagement will be in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Mike Rhodes is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper in Fresno, California. He can be reached by email at editor@fresnoalliance.com.