When I was 17 years old and pregnant, my mother told me that if I decided to keep my baby, she and my dad would support my decision. She told me it was not the end of the world.

But it was the end of my freedom, my financial autonomy, my ability to devote myself to a partner. It was the end of some of the dignity, respect and advantages that I’d have otherwise enjoyed as a student, as a professional.

I did get a college degree after 10 years, after depending on others, being on welfare for a time, working at Wendy’s, Hardees, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, moving up to Darryl’s Restaurant and the Plantation Inn. I was lonely, I was dependent, I was often depressed. I was so young.

My son deserved a grown-up for a mom. He deserved a dad. He deserved resources that would have identified his autism sooner. He deserved parents who could focus on his needs without being so challenged by their own.

Barack Obama says the candidates’ families are off limits. I wouldn’t want him to say anything different. But Sarah Palin’s daughter does matter in this election. She matters because her mother, who would be second in line to be president, does not believe in a woman’s right to choose abortion, and does not support public school sex education.

And she matters as a person. If her mother’s beliefs or political position are influencing her to raise a child as a teenager, it is this young woman’s family, and the Republicans who are willing to expose her this way, who are hurting hernot the reporters who ask them questions.

And if the young family ends up with presidential-level support and protection and appears to be fine and happy … well, that is a big problem for millions of not-so-privileged teenage girls.

Because when you’re 17 and a bit lonely, the idea of having a sweet little baby to love is already appealing. If you see this happen in the vice president’s family, if you see the baby’s daddy marrying the teenage girl, if people say, “OK, they’re a little young, but they’ve got courage,” what would stop you?

This is the stuff of a girl’s fantasies. At this age, we just don’t have a clue of the heartache ahead. And now this would be just the coolest, “in” thing to do and, believe it or not, sanctioned by the party who preaches abstinence.

Why are Palin’s appeal, her humanity, her spunk, more important than her failure to protect her daughter from an early pregnancy in the first place, and from the scrutiny of the world in the second?

When Republicans are forced to abandon their stance that it is the parents’ responsibility to teach sex education (because they can’t have her mother blamed), when they have no choice but to put that blame squarely on the delinquent daughter, won’t she feel a little humiliated? Won’t she be a little angry? A little hurt?

This is not the best environment in which to bring a newborn baby, with or without the dutiful dad. I am two years younger than Sarah Palin. I know better, and so should she.

Obama is right; he cannot say a word. But I can.