The beautiful Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, a frontier woman of many parts, some of them controversial and others contradictory, a hunter, a staunch conservative who supposedly has bedeviled the corrupt and the wasteful in the Alaskan government, a mother of five children, the youngest with Down’s syndrome, is now John McCain’s vice presidential nominee. With this nomination McCain has found redemption in the eyes of evangelical Christians, including James Dobson of “Focus on the Family” fame. Sarah Palin, with her strict opposition to abortion, supposedly is a woman after James Dobson’s heart.

Dobson is not daunted by the skeletons in Palin’s closet, now wide open to public scrutiny thanks to the ever curious media. Rather, he and his fellow evangelical Christians are pleased that Bristol Palin, Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, pregnant out of wedlock, has decided to keep her child and marry the father, positive proof of the Palin family’s veneration for life from conception. Many shrewd Republican politicians express the view that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is a private matter, where the only decent thing for the media to do would be to leave the young girl alone.

Buried in all of this politicking is the absence of the shame factor across America about out of wedlock pregnancies and births. The sanctimonious, culturally conservative Republicans are finding it hard to impose self-control on their young, in this no different from the liberals. From celebrities to ghetto dwellers, men and women of many age groups and political persuasions are rolling in the hay with no concern for the consequences.

The major casualties of this recklessness are the children born of fleeting sexual encounters. They are often rudderless, inheritors of the poverty of their single mothers, emotionally and intellectually deprived, and most importantly angry from neglect and abuse. Ask the many social workers in America, and they will have heart-wrenching stories to relate about the devastation wreaked by out-of-wedlock births.

While Republicans trumpet their devotion to abstinence, immature young men and women who cannot even hold down minimum-wage jobs make babies, acquiring life-threatening or life-altering diseases while they are at it, bringing heartache and tragedy to their parents. Where is the outrage among Republicans that Bristol Palin is pregnant at 17?

On both sides of the cultural aisle, this is now acceptable. Absent any societal norms on the subject of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; that these pregnancies are not events to flaunt, that they are tragedies to be avoided at all cost, that the mother’s decision to keep the newborn does not diminish the tragedy.

Out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies will continue to rise in liberal and conservative homes. Irresponsible and impulsive, living for today, teens often practice “To heck with contraception and to heck with abstinence!” expecting their parents to be as understanding and forgiving as Jesus when sex goes awry. But adults should put a brake on these impetuous tendencies by consistently and loudly espousing abstinence, sound sex education and contraception, all three.

Some Republicans, with their exclusive emphasis on abstinence education and their vocal opposition to contraception and sex education, pander to the extremists in their party. They are on the wrong side of this debate and cannot have it both ways in their defense of Bristol Palin.

Either Bristol Palin is a grown woman who is about to become a mother and that is all right with the Republicans, or she is a child who shouldn’t be pregnant in the first place. If the message of abstinence did not work for Bristol Palin, why should it work for poor women in Africa or downtrodden women in India?

The Bush administration made abstinence education a requirement for funding AIDS programs across the globe, demanding that one-third of money donated be used for this purpose. In Third World countries where rape and human trafficking are common, abstinence is not a choice for women. Neither is criminalizing abortion a good policy.

The Republicans may argue that one Bristol Palin does not a failure make of their socially conservative stance. This argument holds no water because America is full of girls similar to Bristol Palin, pregnant out of wedlock and products of conservative homes.

Usha Nellore is a writer living in Bel Air. Reach her at