Education and Pregnancy: Mutually Exclusive?

Serrin Foster

Pregnant and parenting college students need support. Can advocates on both sides of the abortion debate come together to support the Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act?

When Chaunie Saelens
went searching on her Michigan university campus, she learned there were
virtually no resources for students like her facing an unplanned pregnancy.
Sally Winn and her husband discovered the same thing in Indiana. Joyce
McCauley-Benner learned she was pregnant after being sexually assaulted while
working her way through college in Florida; trying to navigate the maze of
resources made her difficult situation even worse. When Julia Thornton faced an
unplanned pregnancy during college, she decided adoption was the best choice
for her and her daughter, but the lack of support drove her to drop out.

Personal stories like
those of Feminists for Life speakers are echoed across the country.
Pregnant professors on the tenure
track often fare no better.  In fact, little has changed since my father
graduated with me in his arms.

When Feminists for
Life’s Board of Directors was determining the best way for us to serve
women and children, a board member shared her story. After a bad break up with
her boyfriend, Jeannie discovered that she was pregnant. As a graduate student
deep in debt, she looked around her Washington, D.C., campus for the basics and
found nothing. She attributes her miscarriage to the stress of feeling she had
no choice but to seek an abortion. “Without housing, child care and
maternity coverage, it doesn’t feel like you have much of a
choice,” she said.

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As I traveled across the
country giving lectures on pro-life feminist history, I realized that I had
never seen a visibly pregnant student. FFL moved into action.

In January 1997, I
moderated the first-ever FFL Pregnancy Resource Forum at Georgetown University,
where administrators, staff and students together inventoried the resources for
pregnant and parenting students on and off campus and determined priorities.
Since then, Georgetown has dedicated housing for student mothers in nearby
townhouses and built a childcare center adjacent to campus. Most important, the
university designated a central place on campus to coordinate services
including financial aid, counseling and health care. Today, Georgetown has
monthly “safety net” meetings of various departments and an annual
Forum to fine-tune their efforts to support pregnant students and parents.

Our initial Forum became
a model for the country; since then, FFL has moderated similar panel
discussions from Harvard to Berkeley, Notre Dame to Pepperdine. FFL lectures
and Forums have also sparked creative solutions by students—both pro-life
and pro-choice. Berkeley students collected money to install dozens of diaper
decks on a campus that has housing for 1,000 families. University of Virginia
students took CPR courses and offered free babysitting services. Pro-life and
pro-choice students at Wellesley held a rummage sale to provide funds for a
pro-choice student who lost her housing grant when she had her child. That
student later started a campus group called Sisters’ Keepers to build
support for women like her.

Student-organized change
is effective but, in most cases, impermanent. Without the
basics—including institutional changes that support women and men who
choose marital/partnered/single parenting or various adoption options, a
central place on campus to coordinate services, and communication of available
services during orientation and on the university website—women will
continue to feel they don’t have much of a choice.  

Research by the
Guttmacher Institute has found that the primary reasons women have abortions
are lack of resources and support.
Feminists for Life works to systematically eliminate the
reasons that drive women to abortion.

FFL, like Guttmacher,
has been listening to women about their unmet needs. College-age women have
almost half of the abortions in the U.S. In 2007, FFL asked student activists
at campuses across the country to try to find basic services for pregnant and
parenting students. The
results were dismal but no surprise. As one student put
it, “If you do get pregnant, your college experience here is over.”

As both sides look for
ways to work together, FFL proposes an abortion-neutral bill, the
Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act
. If passed, this legislation would
provide funds to start a central place on campus to coordinate services for
pregnant and parenting students, to identify available services and recommend
next steps at an annual Pregnancy Resource Forum, and to give information to
staff and students. The bill is named for the mother of the women’s
movement, who was also the mother of seven children.

Being pregnant or
parenting shouldn’t terminate an education, and the lack of resources and
support shouldn’t make a woman feel coerced into terminating her
pregnancy. But it happens regularly and goes unnoticed at campuses across the

Let’s replicate
success by working together again to pass the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Act.
Pregnant and parenting college students deserve better.

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