I mentioned to a friend the other day that I knew girls in high school who got pregnant and kept the child and that I also knew of people, from wealthier families, who got pregnant and had their problem “taken care of.” What has made Bristol Palin’s pregnancy so surprising to me—beside the way social conservatives have rallied around her decision to marry and become a mother—is that the Palins went public with their daughter’s mistake. Though the Palins belong to that class of Americans whom you expect to keep quiet their indiscretions, they also belong to that subset of evangelical Christians who, from the looks of things, practice what is preached.
With this in mind, I found an article by Slate’s mad biology reporter and resident fertility expert, William Saletan, both intuitive and affirming. After doing some devil’s arithmetic, Saletan concludes that at least a few of the presidential and vice presidential candidates’ daughters since 1964 must have gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Why didn’t we hear about these women? His suspicion would be my own:
An unintended pregnancy rate of 6 to 7 percent, in a population of 37 women, means two to three pregnancies per year. Even if you discount the rate further, on the grounds that these are the wealthiest and best-educated families, the notion that none of these young women got knocked up before their parents’ nominations or elections is—pardon the term—almost inconceivable. If you’re a politician, and your daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock, you can be systematically excluded from the sample of nominees by self-selection, voters, or running-mate vetters. But not if the pregnancy never becomes known.
If any of these daughters conceived, but no pregnancy or birth was reported, what happened? One possibility is miscarriage. But the Guttmacher analysis suggests a different answer: Most unintended pregnancies in the higher income and education brackets end in abortion.
Remember that before you judge or poke fun at Sarah Palin. She’s not the candidate whose daughter messed up. She’s the candidate who didn’t get rid of the mess.