- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

When Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life (FFL) in Northwest, lectured on college campuses, she never saw a pregnant woman attending school, a fact that began to bother her.

“I knew people were getting pregnant. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be abortion clinics close to campus,” Ms. Foster said.

With the start of the College Outreach Program in 1994, Ms. Foster began lecturing about pro-life feminist history, explaining that early-American feminists opposed abortion because of their belief in the rights of all human beings. Ms. Foster considered what FFL, a nonpartisan grass-roots organization that provides resources and support for pregnant women and students, could do beyond lecturing on feminist history.

Two years later, FFL moderated its first Pregnancy Resource Forum at Georgetown University to address ways to improve campus resources for pregnant and parenting students.

The forum engages students and campus organizations at the university and elsewhere FFL visits to consider the campus’ unmet needs and identify which resources are available, underutilized or need to be introduced, said Julia Thornton, a speaker and board member of FFL.

“It’s about real people who are faced with incredibly difficult situations. And in understanding their experiences, we can better understand how we can make sure young women are no longer compelled to make a choice by default out of a sense of desperation,” Ms. Thornton said.

FFL inspired the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act of 2007. If enacted, the legislation would establish a pilot program to provide up to $50 million in grants for college campuses to establish and operate pregnant and parenting student-services offices.

“We’re not arguing about abortion. We’re asking about other choices and the resources to support them,” Ms. Foster said.

The forum speakers share their stories of pregnancy and parenting under the theme that women deserve better than abortion. The speakers explain the choices they or their mothers made as they convey the need for college campuses to provide resources for pregnant and parenting students. These resources include affordable family housing; on-site day care; diaper-changing stations on campus; maternity coverage in health insurance plans; parenting centers with parenting classes and counseling services; and flexible class scheduling.

“By sharing their stories, I think the speakers will not only be educating the students, they will inspire change on the campuses they visit,” said Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America in Arlington.

Ms. Thornton said she was advised by her school counselor to abort. She instead continued with her pregnancy and, without access to needed resources, dropped out of school during the second semester of her freshman year, she said. She returned a year later after she placed her daughter for adoption, she said.

“My story is a good example of how hostile certain university environments are to women who choose to continue an unplanned pregnancy,” Ms. Thornton said.

Each year, 10 percent of all college-age women become pregnant, and one out of every five abortions is performed on a college woman, according to FFL’s Web site, www.feminists forlife.org.

“If you’re preaching choice on college campuses, when a woman is faced with this situation, give her choices,” Ms. Thornton said. “When you really examine the reality on college campuses, the choices you have can be reduced to one of two things: terminate your pregnancy or drop out of school.”

Since the start of the College Outreach Program, the number of abortions among college students has dropped 30 percent, according to FFL.

Joyce McCauley-Benner, one of five new speakers this year and a Northwest Ohio resident, tells her story of being raped at age 20 and her choice not to abort, not knowing whether her unborn son was the result of her rape or of her relationship at the time.

“I was worried, scared, hurt,” Ms. McCauley-Benner said. “Did I consider abortion? Sure I did.”

Ms. McCauley-Benner talked with a friend who told her that though she was going through a lot of emotions, not one of them would last forever as would an abortion, Ms. McCauley-Benner said.

“That thought stuck with me. No matter if I had the baby or not, it doesn’t take away the pain of the rape,” she said. “It was very empowering for me. I can take this moment back. It doesn’t matter who his dad is. I’m his mom.”

Ms. McCauley-Benner called her story one of hope. She finished her degree while raising her son, who now is 9. She married and had a second son, who is 5.

“I have a message of hope I can bring to women that will give them one more piece of information to help them in making their choice,” she said.

The four other speakers who will tell their stories on campuses are:

• Melissa Ohden, who was aborted at about five months’ gestation and placed in a neonatal unit until she was adopted.

• Karen Shablin, who converted to a pro-life feminist after having an abortion.

• Ann Lowrey Forster, who became pregnant during her sophomore year in college. She was urged to abort and was deserted by her boyfriend, but she continued with her pregnancy. She gave birth that summer and returned to school her junior year. She now is married with a toddler and a newborn.

• Angelica Rosales, whose mother was advised to abort her. She founded a pregnancy center after graduating from college in her hometown in the Southwest.

“This is a challenge not just to abortion supporters but also to the pro-life community, who sometimes fails to recognize the complexities surrounding these types of situations,” Ms. Thornton said. “This isn’t about right and wrong. This is about helping people in really difficult situations.”

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