Colleges and universities address many important issues at student orientations, in handbooks, in classes and in the student newspaper — drinking, drugs, free speech, sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, discrimination, minority rights and more. But they never bring up pregnancy.
When a college student doesn’t see anyone else succeed as a student parent, she, or he, assumes it can’t be done. Most often the campus health clinic automatically refers pregnant students to an abortion clinic.
Research by Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s research arm, documents college-age women are at highest risk of having an abortion. Forty-five percent of women who have abortions are of college age, 18-24 years old. Women with some college had a pregnancy rate lower than average, but still “had the highest abortion rate of any educational group.”
The statistics support what pregnant and parenting students have told Feminists for Life for years: they need more resources and support. Among women who had abortions, 71 percent of 18- to 19-year-olds and 58 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds said a child would interfere with their education or career.
If we as a nation are serious about reducing the 1.1 million abortions performed each year, we need to listen to women. Then we need to respond. Some visionary lawmakers are doing so. Republicans Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Rep. Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania have just proposed the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Students Act of 2005.
If passed, the bill would establish a pilot program to provide $10 million for 200 grants to encourage higher education institutions to establish and operate pregnant and parenting student services offices. The on-campus offices would serve parenting students, prospective student parents pregnant or imminently anticipating an adoption, and students who are placing or have placed a child for adoption.
Participating colleges would organize an initial pregnancy and parenting resource forum to assess on- and off-campus resources and set improvement goals for the new office in such areas as housing, child care, maternity coverage and riders for additional family members in any student health care plan, flexible schedules and telecommuting, resources for pregnant women and children, and counseling.
Based on the initial forum and benchmarking, schools would annually assess the offices’ performance in meeting the needs of pregnant and parenting students. Colleges may make these services available to professors and other employees, as well.
Feminists for Life’s successful Pregnancy Resource Forums were the models for the legislation.
I moderated Feminists for Life’s first Pregnancy Resource Forum at Georgetown University in 1997. Administrators, faculty and staff from different departments and students participated. We inventoried campus services and resources and decided what was most needed.
Within two years, Georgetown trustees had set aside nearby housing for parents, started Hoya Kids Day Care, established a 24-hour hotline, and cross-trained counselors to address pregnancy resources as well as sexual assault and domestic violence. Every year, Georgetown hosts another resource forum to see what improvements should be made next.
Since that first forum, FFL has brought the program to select colleges across the country, including Harvard, Swarthmore, Berkeley, Stanford, Northwestern, Chicago, Loyola Baltimore and Notre Dame, among others. We shared solutions created at one college with the next. Each built on the others’ successes.
Students themselves — pro-life and pro-choice alike — are helping creating solutions. University of Virginia students started a babysitting service. At Berkeley, pro-life students raised funds and placed diaper decks in men’s and women’s restrooms all over campus to support more than 1,000 student parents each year. Wellesley pro-life and pro-choice students recently collaborated in a rummage sale to benefit pregnant and parenting mothers.
These simple solutions are the dawn of a new day. For almost 33 years, one side in the polarized abortion debate has asked “What about the woman?” The other has asked, “What about the baby?” The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Students Act of 2005 holds the answer to both questions: working together to the address the unmet needs of women. A peaceful revolution on campuses has begun.
It is fitting that the new Senate bill is named for Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the mother of the women’s movement and also of seven children. Mrs. Stanton was a revolutionary who consistently advocated for the rights of women, for women’s education, for the celebration and acceptance of motherhood — and for protecting children, born and unborn. Shewould be proud to know she still inspires action today.