Education and Pregnancy: Mutually Exclusive?

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.

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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  • invalid-0

    Serrin, thanks for shedding some light on a oft-avoided topic. Having graduated from college not too long ago, I think you’re absolutely right to draw attention to a tremendously underserved population. Even in schools where this is no stigma on reproductive health, contraception can be costly and women’s health offices often have long waits for the necessary appointment to get on the pill or get access to other behind-the-counter contraceptives. And then for those college-aged women who do get pregnant, very few option seem viable. I hope supporting pregnant and parenting students can be one point on common ground for those on both sides of the abortion issue!

    • invalid-0

      About HARM of the early beginning of a sexual life – the slightest hint! Approach of undesirable pregnancy is possible, that at teenagers almost always conducts to abortion, and behind it – to a chain of every possible illnesses;

      In days of my childhood there were many serials in which problems of teenagers revealed…

  • invalid-0

    Serrin, one would hope that folks with different views on the legality of abortion could agree on such things as providing support for pregnant college students.

    But the distortions and prejudice shown on this site don’t make me optimistic. Did you know that this site lists Feminists for Life as a “far right” organization? Do you consider that accurate?

    On this very page there is a banner saying “Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Nothing but False Promises and Misinformation”. Do you believe that?

    As a listed contributor to the site, can’t you insist that they stop their distortions and falsehoods about pro-lifers as a condition of your participation? Overall, this is an attack site, not a common ground site.

    • invalid-0

      Complaining about distortion is fine, but the reality is that this pro-choice site is providing free space to pro-life bloggers and posts. I think RH can be forgiven for using the site to express its own views.

      Now, I would be interested to learn if any pro-life site is willing to generously offer the same to opposing views?

      I know from experience that, even if one is pro-life but dissents on an issue–such as fetal personhood laws–one finds her comments moderated and deleted.

      If humble comments are not tolerated at pro-life sites, I suspect that it would be a bit ambitious to ask for a free blog.

      The pro-lifers here have it good, Bill. The pro-life community can learn from RH and other pro-choice sites about permitting disagreement.

  • scott-swenson

    It is possible for people who differ to engage the discussion. Serrin knows very well who RH Reality Check is and that we aren’t going to change any more than we expect her to. You might learn something by reading the article about CPC’s. And our site will continue to write from a progressive perspective — but in this space — Serrin knows we’re trying something different. All we’re asking is that people open their minds to the possibility things might change as a result. Thanks Serrin for your contribution and “agreeing to disagree.”

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • invalid-0

    Indeed college campuses are very problematic. While I am certainly for a woman’s right to choose, I really hate the fact that those choices available are often untenable and end up with the woman feeling that she has no options or that the options available are untenable. These include being forced to choose between education or parenthood, financial pressures, and of course for many the biggie is public negativity and censure. There is also little university or college support for parenting — no resources or rights for students who are breastfeeding, no sick leave policies for students that are struggling with pregnancy or birth complications, and everything left to the whims of individual professors and administrators.

    This situation should be unacceptable. I’ll only believe that folks are really searching for common ground though, when ALL are willing to say, ok lets leave the law where it is, and TRY to improve policies. Lets SEE if better financial support, more emotional support and better access to services makes a difference.

    I honestly believe that it truly will make a difference. Too bad those entrenched on both sides of the issue have such a hard time with inclusion.

    • invalid-0

      This environment there was a concept of a community, motherhood and fatherland as the objects of service directed on well-being and quality of a life of a community. As soon as we will find a spiritual way of the decision of material problems, having executed our role of representatives of spiritual culture in a material world, we can feel at once more full dynamics of a spiritual life and we will learn to create spirituality atmosphere where we were.

  • invalid-0

    The Feminists for Life page about the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant & Parenting Student Services Act is right– How often do you see Planned Parenthood staffers, Feminist Majority and Focus on the Family agreed on legislation? This is a great bill.

  • progo35

    This is a great idea, And, it does address a very significant issue. Abortion with no support systems in place that would allow someone to make a different decision is no choice. This is something that pro choice and pro life people can agree upon.

    quot;Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • invalid-0

    I really feel strongly that information is the key to making any good decision when it comes to reproduction and pregnancy, especially when the life of a baby is on the line. When backed in to a corner (ie… with no information) young couples make terrible decisions simply because they dont know what all of their options are, and that quite frankly is sad.

  • invalid-0

    We live in the richest country in the world, yet students are left to organizing rummage sales for young pregnant women. As hopeful as that is, I call this a public health disaster! Does anyone know how this situation is handled in Canada or in Europe where they have universal coverage? Please tell me it’s better…