April 6, 2011 — -- From the moment cameras first glimpsed 17-year-old Bristol Palin pregnant alongside her former fiance, family and mother who was aspiring to be the next vice president, she became a poster child and later spokeswoman for teenage pregnancy prevention.
Three years later, Palin has become well-compensated for speaking against teen pregnancy. The non-profit group the Candie's Foundation paid her a reported $262,500 to be an ambassador for teen-pregnancy prevention, a role that included a public service announcement in which she warned others not to follow in her footsteps.
"What if I didn't come from a famous family?" she asked in her 30-second PSA. "What if I didn't have their support? What if I didn't have all of these opportunities? Believe me, it wouldn't be pretty."
Speaking on ABC News' "Good Morning America" in 2009, shortly after accepting her role with Candie's, Palin told Chris Cuomo, "Abstinence is the only way you can effectively 100 percent prevent pregnancy. It's the safest choice and it will prevent teen pregnancy and a lot of heartache."
Those comments drew heavy and immediate criticism from many who viewed the message as hypocritical.
Now, her abstinence payday also is drawing fire because Candie's paid Bristol nearly seven times what they spent on other teen pregnancy prevention programs.
In a written statement to ABC News, Candie's said, "Ms. Palin was compensated for her work with the Foundation, which included appearing in video and print PSAs, two town hall meetings, and numerous media interviews. We know that Ms. Palin's work has had a positive effect on creating awareness about teen pregnancy."
But is it only about the message? Is spending $262,500, a figure reportedly posted online by the research firm GuideStar, really more effective than $35,000 spent for actual prevention?
Candie's cited an independent survey to ABC News that compared the Bristol Palin PSA with those of another national teen pregnancy organization that used non-famous teens. The Candie's survey found that more than twice as many teens (57 percent versus 27 percent) said Bristol's PSA "got my attention", three times as many (41 percent versus 11 percent) said it was "powerful", and more than twice as many (38 percent versus 16 percent) said it was "memorable."
Shows like MTV's "16 and Pregnant" help show the difficulties of being a teenage mother, experts say. But many see the problem as too many teens getting their sex education from television and not from parents or the classroom.
On Tuesday, the CDC released updated numbers about the state of teen pregnancy in the United States showing the rate of teen girls giving birth has dropped by about 40 percent.
According to the statistics, which date back to 2009, the year Palin first started speaking actively about the perils of teen pregnancy, approximately 1,100 teen girls still give birth every day. That breaks down into more than 400,000 teen girls giving birth each year in the United States. Nearly 2/3 of the births to women younger than 18 are unintended.
Although the numbers continue to decline, they remain far higher than similar numbers in other developed nations.
"There is no one-size-fits-all way to prevent teen pregnancy," said the CDC's Dr. Wanda Barfield during a telephone briefing Tuesday. "Only 50 percent of high school students are getting comprehensive sexual education, including abstinence and contraception."
President Bush was a major proponent of abstinence-only programs, pumping more than $100 million to fund those type of initiatives.
On the other hand, President Obama pumped $114 million into a teen pregnancy Initiative aimed at looking at ways it improve sex education by promoting both abstinence and contraception. However, funding for that initiative soon may end because of the current budget tightening negotiations.
"Abstinence only doesn't work and it violates people's right to accurate information," said Leslie Kantor, Planned Parenthood's National Director of Education. "Comprehensive sex education includes information on abstinence as well as methods of contraception and information about relationships. Those are the programs that actually work."
It's a point that even Bristol Palin has conceded in other interviews, where she has said that her mother's view of abstinence, especially in relation to teenagers, is "not realistic at all."
Bristol Palin maintains that she adores her son Tripp and never considered any other option to giving birth -- but in a perfect world, if she could have the same son later on, she would have waited to have sex.
But, life isn't perfect. In a 2010 interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts, Palin said her biggest message is not the benefits of abstinence but the difficulties of being a teenage mom.
"Just being 100 percent responsible for another person and having my childhood taken away from me [has been difficult]," she said. "Most girls don't have that support of a husband or a boyfriend. I just want to let teens know how difficult it is to be a teen parent."