The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting
Student Services Act
(Note: This op-ed appeared after the initial introduction of the
bill in 2005. The re-introduction occurred in the House on 02/15/2007
as HR1088 and in the Senate as S.915 on 03/19/2007.)
Serrin M. Foster, President, Feminists for Life
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, STDs, discrimination, minority rights and more. But one issue they never bring up is pregnancy.
When a college student doesn't see anyone else succeeding as a student parent, she—or he—assumes that 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 that women of college age are at highest risk of having an abortion. Forty-five percent of women who have abortions are of college age, 18 to 24 years old. Women with some college had a pregnancy rate that was lower than average, but still "had the highest abortion rate of any educational group." The statistics support what pregnant and parenting students have been telling 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 having 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. And then we need to respond. Some visionary lawmakers are doing just that. Senator Elizabeth Dole and Congresswoman Melissa Hart have just introduced the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act of 2005.
If passed, the act would establish a pilot program to provide $10 million for 200 grants to encourage institutions of higher education to establish and operate a pregnant and parenting student services office. The on-campus office would serve parenting students, prospective student parents who are 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 resources on and off campus 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 performance of the office in meeting the needs of pregnant and parenting students. Colleges may allow professors and other employees to access these services as well.
Feminists for Life's successful Pregnancy Resource Forums served as the model 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 took an inventory of 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 staffed hotline, and cross-trained counselors to address pregnancy resources as well as sexual assault and domestic violence. Every year Georgetown hosts another Pregnancy 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, University of Chicago, Loyola Baltimore and Notre Dame, among others. We shared solutions created at one college with the next. Each institution built on the others' successes.
Students themselves—pro-life and pro-choice alike—are helping create 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 on a rummage sale to benefit pregnant and parenting mothers.
These simple solutions are the dawning of a new day. For almost thirty-three 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, who was the mother of the women's movement and also the mother of seven children. 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 the protection of children, born and unborn. She would be proud to know that she still inspires action today.
The legislation introduced by Senator Dole and Congresswoman Hart can help shift the focus from bitter debate to woman-centered solutions. We recently celebrated the 190th anniversary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's birth (November 12). This is a gift that will carry her legacy forward to transform the lives of women and children.
This article was originally published in The Washington Times, Sunday, November 20, 2005.