The monks of Belmont Abbey in Belmont, N.C., hope to provide college women who become pregnant with the resources they need to choose life.
A Charlotte-based organization called Room at the Inn is raising the money to build and staff a residential on-campus maternity and after-care facility on land donated by the monks. It will sit adjacent to Belmont Abbey College, and it will be open primarily to women attending any of the regional schools or vocational institutions.
“We see this as a concrete effort to support what we believe,” said Abbot Placid Solari. “It is important to (figure out) what concrete assistance you can offer to women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant or feel helpless.”
The new facility will have room for 15 mothers, 15 infants and eight toddlers, and it will include common areas like a chapel, a laundry, a playroom, a kitchen and a dining room. There will be a 24-hour professional staff with a social-work background as well as on-site child care.
It will have the kind of resources that might have convinced Room at the Inn’s assistant director, Debbie Capen, years ago that she could choose life. Instead, the suggestion she received from her college’s health clinic was that she look up abortion in the Yellow Pages. “If only someone had been there to show me that I had the strength to face the truth, face my mother and face my child with joy,” she said.
Family and Education
Capen’s experience is certainly not unique. Research has shown that 45% of women having abortions are between 18 and 24 years old. When asked for their reasoning, more than half said they believed having a baby would interfere with their education or career, while others cited a lack of resources or support.
“We know that college women are getting pregnant,” Capen said. “We know they are having abortions. When was the last time you saw a visibly pregnant woman on campus? If you don’t see the reality, it doesn’t become the norm. (We) have to create a new perception ... that women can have a child and education.”
Feminists for Life took up the gauntlet to try to create this new perception more than 10 years ago, when it started hosting pregnancy-resource forums on campuses around the country. More recently, the organization conducted a study at 400 colleges about the availability of assistance for pregnant students. It showed that, indeed, resources of all types still were lacking, but equally as troubling, the help that was available wasn’t easily accessible or widely publicized.
“We in this country are a people who believe in education,” said Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life. “Those who start families first or don’t plan on a family shouldn’t feel the choice between sacrificing either their family or their education. ... Women are routinely referred to abortion clinics by well-meaning counselors who think women can’t figure it out.”
The news is not all bad. In fact, Foster has seen a lot of positive things happen over the years, including student groups volunteering to babysit and collecting money to install diaper decks in restrooms. At one school, pro-life and pro-abortion activists even worked together to raise housing money for a pregnant student who would lose her grant if she moved off campus.
On the administrative level, Georgetown University took the information it learned from the pregnancy-resource forums and designated a central location on campus for information. It falls under the auspices of the Health Education Services department headed by Carol Day.
Students are offered free anonymous pregnancy tests, wrapped in a flier describing the services and aid that can be provided. Counseling is offered along with assistance for revamping financial aid, reconfiguring class schedules, finding a doctor, learning about adoption, and working with professors to get less stringent deadlines.
Pregnant women are allowed to live in the residence halls. After delivery, there is housing available that can accommodate two women and children. An on-campus daycare center is available for children over 18 months old. The on-campus pro-life group provides a list of student babysitters, and the university sometimes will subsidize part-time child care.
“What we do is help (pregnant students) think through what they need at different phases,” Day said. “We provide ongoing services because we know the landscape. We don’t stop at ‘Here is your pregnancy test.’” Georgetown reviews its policies annually through an open forum.
An Example to Follow
As for the facility at Belmont Abbey College, Room at the Inn says it has raised half of the $3 million needed to build and staff it. The goal is to have all the necessary funds within a year, Capen says.
The hope is that the initiative at Belmont Abbey will become a model, says Lacy Dodd, who serves on Room at the Inn’s board of directors. This role has allowed her to help women facing unplanned pregnancies just like she faced as a college senior 10 years ago at the University of Notre Dame.
After sharing her experiences in an article in First Things, Dodd was invited by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture to speak at the rally for life organized by ND Response on Commencement Day this spring. ND Response formed in order to protest the university’s decision to allow President Obama to speak at graduation and receive an honorary doctorate.
“I spoke about the facility that Room at the Inn is currently raising money for and encouraged my alma mater to build a facility just like this, under Our Lady’s shadow, to serve as a refuge for any college student in the Fort Wayne-South Bend area facing an unplanned pregnancy,” Dodd said.
Meanwhile, Feminists for Life is pushing for Congress to pass the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Act, which would give small matching grants annually to colleges for the establishment of pregnancy-resource programs.
“Having an education is really important for a parent,” Foster said. “We don’t want women feeling they have to go to an abortion clinic to complete their education.”
Monta Hernon writes from
La Grange Park, Illinois.