NEWS

Deborah E. Gauthier: A speech for Sarah Palin

Deborah E. Gauthier

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin could have had a teachable moment yesterday during her appearance before students at Dover High School in New Hampshire. Her words could have slowed, and even reversed, the slide toward the election of Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

This is what she could have said:

"Good morning.

"It is an incredible delight to be speaking today in Dover, New Hampshire, and an even greater pleasure to be speaking to high school students because my message today is for high school students and their parents, not just here in this wonderful state of New Hampshire where the leaves of autumn take my breath away, but in my home state of Alaska, where my heart lives, and in this great United States of America.

"I want to apologize. I made a mistake, the administration of President George W. Bush made a mistake, and for that I am sorry.

"You all know by now that my 17-year-old daughter Bristol and her 18-year-old boyfriend Levi Johnson are expecting a child on Dec. 18. What you may not know is that Bristol is a junior in high school. Will she graduate? I don't know.

"What you also may not know is that Levi, who was a high school senior, dropped out of school and is now working on the North Slope oilfields as an apprentice electrician. He's learning a craft so he'll be able to support a family.

"This isn't the immediate future I envisioned for my daughter, and I'm sure the Johnson family would say the same about their hopes for their son.

"We are proud of our children, of course. They might have considered aborting the child they are expecting -- a child we already love. They did not. They believe, as I do, that life begins at the moment of conception.

"Opposition to abortion is not and never will be a mistake for me. I now realize, however, that my opposition to contraception was and will always be a mistake.

"Sex education in Alaska is almost non-existent despite statistics that show 63 percent of Alaskan high school seniors in 2007 reported having sex.

"Like President Bush, I have always supported abstinence-only sex education. Obviously, that narrow thinking didn't work for Bristol and Levi, and it hasn't worked for thousands of other teens.

"Alaska has the 30th highest teen pregnancy rate in any state -- that is 1,770 teen pregnancies every year, and 19 percent of those pregnancies result in abortion.

"That breaks my heart.

"I can say with pride, though, that Alaska ranks first in service to women seeking contraception. The state has 16 family planning clinics that serve 10,450 women, including 3,320 teen women. We have to get that information and those resources into the hands of high school students, and that can best be done through sex education in our schools.

"The problem goes beyond the debate over contraception and abortion, however.

"About 17 percent of Alaska's high schools have graduation rates of less than 60 percent. By contrast, in New Hampshire, only 4 percent of your high schools have graduation rates less than 60 percent.

"I'd like to see Alaska follow your example.

"That won't happen unless the state that I love takes seriously the need for all-inclusive sex education in high school.

"It's time to face facts. Our children are bombarded with sexual hormones in their teen years. We can pretend it's not happening, or we can give them the information they need to prevent pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease.

"And by doing that, we can reduce the high school drop-out rate.

"The path for Bristol and Levi has veered from college to marriage next spring. I hope and pray they will try to fit education into the busy years ahead of them. It won't be easy, but unlike many other pregnant teens, they have financial and emotional support from their parents.

"Education is the path out of poverty. Preventing teen pregnancy is key to staying on that path. We must do all we can to help every teen stay that course.

"Thank you. God bless America, and God bless our children."

Deb Gauthier can be reached at dgauthie@cnc.com.