Culture of Life
On Campus, an Inhospitable Climate for Pregnant Coeds
BY Jay Copp
May 3-9, 1998 Issue | Posted 5/3/98 at 2:00 PM
Pro—Life groups work to alleviate pressure students feel to choose abortion
CHICAGO—College coeds today carry a lot: heavy course loads, steep tuition bills, and career ambitions equal to their male peers. One precious thing they don't carry on campus though, are babies.
From coast to coast the presence of student—mothers and their children on campus is practically nil. Students interviewed for this story typically say they have never seen a classmate with a baby. What happens then, to the multitude of college students who become pregnant?
“The students have such an overwhelming sense that they can't do this [have the baby] by themselves,” says Vanessa Clay. A 1997 Georgetown University graduate, Clay, 23, now directs the Northwest (crisis pregnancy) Center in Washington. “They don't want to put pressure on the boyfriend, who's also usually in school. So they end up terminating the pregnancy.”
The prevalence of abortion among college students is a little—known facet of the U.S. abortion picture. One in five abortions is procured by college students, who face particularly intense pressures to choose abortion if they become pregnant. The women believe there are few resources to help them with their child. Teachers, administrators, and peers tell them that abortion is morally acceptable; boyfriends and parents urge them not to sacrifice their education because of an unplanned pregnancy.
There is no housing for mothers with children and day care is rarely available.
Planned Parenthood, the nation's top abortion provider, exploits the vulnerability of pregnant college women by opening clinics near universities and advertising in school newspapers and similar publications, says Serrin Foster, executive director of Washington—based Feminists for Life, an educational and advocacy group. Administrators of school health clinics, typically pro—abortion, funnel pregnant students to these clinics and fail to mention alternatives, according to Foster.
Sadly, she adds, Catholic universities are no better than others at helping a coed understand there are government programs and non—profit groups that can assist her and her baby. Just as at other universities, students at Catholic colleges who become pregnant almost uniformly choose abortion or drop out of school, Foster says.
Dina Dagrizikas, a student at Loyola University in Chicago, says she has never seen a pregnant student on campus—and she knows why.
“There's a Planned Parenthood clinic down the block on Sheridan [Road],” she says. “Everybody knows about it. Few people know about where to call for adoption, or about Catholic Charities, or Birthright, or a local crisis pregnancy center.”
In fact, Dagrizikas, the head of the student pro—life group, says the campus is generally not receptive to her pro—life efforts. She tried to initiate a forum to discuss resources available to pregnant women and was rebuffed by the women's center and various student groups. When her pro—life group erected a simple memorial to the unborn in front of a campus building, the student newspaper labeled the group as “extremist.”
The university's student health center refused to stock a resource kit prepared by Feminists for Life. The director called the materials “harsh,” though she did decide to add the names and telephone numbers in the kit to the center's resource list. The campus ministry office, however, agreed to carry the kit.
Foster says colleges are particularly hostile environments to pregnant women. There is no housing for mothers with children and day care is rarely available. Many student health plans do not cover pre—natal and maternity costs.
Women's studies professors, seen as an ally to women, are overwhelmingly pro—abortion, and many of these professors vigorously defend abortion “rights” as fundamental, says Foster.
“Our society puts all this pressure on young people to have sex. If you don't have sex, you're not normal,” adds Foster. “Then we pretend we won't have any pregnancies. We put women between a rock and a hard place.”
The college experience apparently convinces women that abortion is morally OK. According to a 1996 Gallup poll, women with a high school education are more pro—life (47%) than “pro—choice” (37%). Women who have completed a four—year program are more “pro—choice” (73%) than pro—life (24%).
College students learn that the contemporary model of a successful woman does not include motherhood, says Helen Zonenberg, a junior at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass.
“We're expected to succeed in the world. Our institution puts forth the idea of education,” she says. “We don't see models of motherhood.”
Zonenberg, a Catholic who belongs to the Wellesley Alliance for Life, says college officials support pregnant students no matter what they choose. Last semester a young mother lived with her child in a dormitory. That was “very refreshing” to see.
Women are given a false choice between their child and their education, says Clay of the Northwest Center.
“So much pressure is put on women to finish college. All their hopes and dreams are tied up in it,” she says. “They feel they're forced to choose between a child and school—but to continue their education is really the best thing for their child.”
Students at Catholic colleges who become pregnant almost uniformly choose abortion or drop out of school.
Some colleges are finally beginning to recognize the dilemma of its pregnant students and taking positive action. Next fall, says Clay, Georgetown University will rent a residence one block from campus to two women who are now pregnant. The residence normally houses four students.
In March, Georgetown also held the first pregnancy resource forum, run by a campus Right to Life group and moderated by Foster. About 65 students and several administrators heard discussion about identifying and developing resources for pregnant students.
With backing from Feminists for Life, pro—life groups at other universities have raised awareness of the plight of pregnant students. Students at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., blitzed the campus with brochures of Feminists for Life. After Foster gave a talk at Villanova University near Philadelphia, school administrators placed fliers in student mailboxes and an article in the campus newspaper explaining the available services for pregnant students. A pro—life group at Northwestern University near Chicago met with the staff of the student health center and persuaded them to make referrals to a crisis pregnancy center.
The importance of publicizing resources can't be overstated, says Foster. She won't name the school, but in one year at a university in the Northeast 300 of 3,000 female students tested positive on pregnancy tests. Three women had babies; two left school.
The problem at root are societal values, says Margaret O‘Connolly of Americans United for Life in Chicago.
“There's a myth at work, an enmity between woman and child. A child is portrayed as something that can ruin a ‘career.’”
Jay Copp writes from Chicago.
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