As reported by The Hartford Courant, September 3, 2008.

Palin's Daughter Shines Light on Sex Education

By Susan Campbell

When does an unmarried, pregnant 17-year-old merit the attention of the media?

Rarely, unless the young woman's mother is the Republican candidate for vice president, who, as governor of Alaska, opposes federal funding for sex education classes, a position she shares with the presidential candidate on the same ticket.

Rarely, unless your mother believes that abstinence is the only birth control that's suitable for public discussion.

And then? Well, it's completely valid as a topic. Both John McCain and Sarah Palin are on record opposing comprehensive, federally funded sex ed in schools. But the discussion goes beyond theory in the Palin household. This weekend, McCain's choice of a running mate announced that her daughter is about five months pregnant, and that she intends to carry to term, and marry the child's father.

When Palin ran for Alaska's governor in '06, she answered a questionnaire from the state affiliate of Phyllis Schlafly's organization, Eagle Forum, that she would never support "explicit" (the Forum's word) sex education.

What constitutes "explicit" sex education? Videos? Condoms on a banana? Using scientific names for the naughty bits?

Be that as it may, you have to appreciate that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama asked that we leave families out of it. In general, what someone's brother, daughter, husband does is not at issue. Obama also graciously reminded us that his own mother was 18 when she had him.

But this is different. This raises the question of why one would cling to public policy that didn't work in one's home. And it reflects a broader societal disconnect in regards to talking about sex. In Bush's adopted state, the word "contraception" has been stricken from material used in public schools, said Rosemary S. Richter, coordinator of teen pregnancy prevention at the UConn Health Center's family planning program. One textbook suggests rest as a means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases, because it's difficult to make good decisions if you're tired.

Good luck with that. No, seriously.

But let's not pick just on Texas. In Connecticut's last legislative session, a healthy-teens bill died for lack of funding. The bill would have extended sex education — comprehensive lessons that would include discussions of abstinence — to all of Connecticut's public schools. As it is, whether you get such an education depends entirely on your ZIP code. Laura Cordes, Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services director of policy and advocacy, says advocates will try again this year.

We can't afford not to fund this (nor can we rely on a Republican party platform that encourages abstention). This country has one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy in the industrialized world, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Texas ranked 45th in terms of issues like funding and accessibility; Connecticut ranked 27th. Both states shared a "worst" ranking for their sex-education policies.

Good sex education is not limited to pregnancy prevention. Good programs cover sexual violence and disease, something sorely needed here. A state Department of Public Health study from 2006 says that 70 percent of reported chlamydia cases occurred in young people between 10 (10!) and 24. Slightly more than half (55 percent) of reported gonorrhea occurred among the same age group. We cannot afford to limit our public discussions to abstinence, nor can we hope that the message gets through at home because, as we see, unplanned pregnancies happen in the nicest of families.