NYC Teens Chide Palin's Abstinence Call

New York City teens consider abstinence but think young Palin is a "hypocrite."

May 7, 2009— -- New York City students who heard Bristol Palin's warnings against teen pregnancy say they might consider abstinence, but they wouldn't take advice on it from the young unwed mother.

Palin, the 18-year-old daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, recently was selected as an ambassador to The Candie's Foundation to help create awareness about the pitfalls of teen pregnancy.

On Wednesday, she carried her message to about 150 teens at a town meeting forum at The Times Center that included "Heroes" actress Hayden Panettiere and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza, who was a teen father.

"It's a big flop," said Jerry Kowal, a senior at Solomon Schecter High School in Hartsdale, N.Y., referring to Palin's campaign to get teens to abstain from sex.

"I don't think it's her real opinion," the 17-year-old told "She's just trying to help her mother. She said it herself that abstinence education doesn't work. I looked it up."

In a February interview with Fox News' Greta Susteren, Palin talked about how much her life had changed since the birth of then-two month old Trig and how teenage abstinence was "unrealistic."

Palin Says Remarks 'Out of Context'

Palin, who gave birth last December, has said earlier remarks were "taken out of context."

Her pregnancy came on the heels of her mother Sarah Palin's bid for the Republican vice-presidential spot. Now, the teen mother's own son is only months away in age from her youngest brother Trig, whom she cradled in front of television audiences on the campaign trail.

After the spotlight of the presidential campaign, Tripp's father, Levi Johnson, broke off his engagement to Palin.

In an interview Wednesday with ABC News' "Good Morning America," Palin said, "I'm relatable. And I'm a teen myself. Regardless of what I did personally, I just think that abstinence is the only way that you can effectively, 100 percent, foolproof way to prevent pregnancy."

But some in her teenage audience disagreed.

"I don't get it," said Raina Brot, 15, from the Beacon School in Manhattan. "She's being kind of a hypocrite."

The Candie's Foundation's mission to educate teenagers about the consequences of teen pregnancy was evident in the posters that draped the stage. They read, "You think your parents gave you a lot of crap?" or, "You think being in school stinks?" One with a photo of a baby crib read, "Not really what you pictured your first crib, huh?"

Teen Births on Rise

A report published in January by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that teen birth rates are rising in 26 states, ending a 15-year decline.

The highest increases are in four states, including Palin's home, Alaska, as well as Mississippi, Montana, Hawaii and Nevada. Regionally, the Northeast has the lowest and the Southwest has the highest rates.

According The Candie's Foundation, the United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the industrialized world. Each year, some 750,000 American teens get pregnant, and, like Palin, 8 out of 10 do not marry the father.

Palin told students that although she was "blessed" by having a large family to help her, the baby thwarted her plans to go to college outside of Alaska and put her "life on the fast track."

"You have so much responsibility and hard work," she told the teens. "It's a 24-hour-a-day job. You don't have friends and you can't just go out to the movies or go get your hair done. It's baby first."

Experts blame the increase of teen births on a number of factors, including a rise in highly publicized teen pregnancies (including Palin's), abstinence-only programs and a disproportionate number of pregnancies among minority teenagers.

According to Brenna Owens, a social worker at CIS, a middle school in the South Bronx, whose students attended the Candie's forum, teens can be receptive to abstinence messages.

"But it depends on what a child is ready to hear in the moment," she told

"They are already exposed to sex in music and on television," said her colleague, literacy teacher Sonia Hameed. "It's pumped at them all the time. It looks glamorous, but they don't see the impact."

The Candie's Foundation is hoping Palin's voice will be just one of many that helps reverse the growing teen birth rate. They advocate both abstince and information on contraception.

"We know having a baby as a teen is really tough on the teen mother and very challenging for the children," said panelist Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "And the economy is so tough that most teens can't finish high school. The teen years should be used for fun."

A survey by Seventeen magazine showed that most teens cited three "emotional reasons" for having sex.

"When teens have sex, they say it just happens," said editor and panelist Ann Shoket. "They feel swept away, they are not using birth control properly and they are afraid to insist on condoms."

Palin: 'Think First'

One bright spot in the study revealed that 70 percent of teens surveyed said they might hesitate on having sex "if they had plans for the future."

"Feeding your dreams gives you something to plan," Shoket said.

Palin agreed.

"I wasn't thinking about the future," she said. "Think before you act."

"I don't believe in abstinence, but I think Bristol Palin could have some influence," said Delwara Begum, a 16-year-old from Beacon High School in Manhattan. "I don't believe it's realistic, but she is speaking out and giving some kind of caution."

Still, her classmate disagreed.

"When you say, 'Don't have sex,' teens will rebel," Ajanay Squire, 16, told

Many studies have shown that abstinence-only programs, like those funded by the federal government, are ineffective, according to David Landry, senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, which advances sexual and reproductive health worldwide.

"Good comprehensive sex education does an excellent job in promoting abstinence," he told "It is the most effective way of avoiding pregnancy.

"But the problem with abstinence alone, it's terribly ineffective and young people like Bristol Palin do not adhere to it. And when they don't have the proper information and when they are sexually active, they often have unprotected sex."

Palin Propelled by 'Circumstances'

"I just feel for [Bristol Palin]," said Landry. "She seems to be caught in the middle of a political firestorm, and I'm not sure how much of it is by her own free well. Circumstances propelled her."

Some teens wondered if a high-profile teen like Palin could understand their own situation.

"It's about peer pressure," said Joy Ocean, 16, from Brooklyn's John Dewey High School. "It's a little overwhelming, and she hasn't been in our shoes."

"I saw [Bristol Palin] on TV and how hard it was on her with her mother in the spotlight," said Mignonette Brathwaite, Ocean's 15-year-old classmate. "She knows her mother is worried about her political campaign. She wouldn't want her to mess up her image."

Their classmate, Rose Acevado, 16, knows the pain of a teen pregnancy. Her sister suffered a miscarriage after hiding a pregnancy for nine months. Today, her sister is pregnant again.

"This is a good thing," she said of the message of abstinence, but not from Bristol Palin. "We'd take it from someone true and honest, not a celebrity."