I was raised in a very progressive, left-leaning household. My father marched for civil rights, and both of my parents were actively involved in opposing the Vietnam conflict. Being an activist was like breathing: It was never discussed, or expected; it just was.
As I got older, I tended to gravitate toward the strong feminist teachers in school — taking more classes from them and learning all that I could.
I identified with them. I saw them as strong, intelligent, and competent. It’s funny looking back, because I knew nothing about feminist history or really even feminism. I just knew I wanted to be one of them… that I wasn’t going to allow a door to be shut in my face simply because I was a girl.
In 1990, I headed off to college, and it was like a whole new world. There was a new war to oppose, fascinating classes to take (and skip), and did I mention the number of parties on a Big Ten campus? That piqued my interest, too!
Three of my four grandparents were professors, and my dad has four master’s degrees and a doctorate. I grew up on campuses across the country — I was finally in my element! Well, all of those horizon-expanding experiences came to a screeching halt one morning my junior year. Despite my faithful attempts to avoid it, I became pregnant. I knew precisely when it had happened. But that one brief moment in time redefined me.
Stunned and panicked, I got out the phone book and started calling offices on campus. When I called to inquire about where I might live should I have the child, I was told there was no family housing available to undergraduates. This made sense to me: I mean, I’d never seen anyone my age on campus who was pregnant.
Even if I lived in an apartment off campus, I still faced the issue of what I would do with a kid while I was in classes. I found and called the campus daycare center. Fortunately, the woman on the other end of the line assured me spaces were available… on a limited basis. Enrollment went first to tenured professors, then those on the tenure track, then associate and adjunct professors, then graduate students and then — dangling at the bottom of the food chain — were undergraduate students.
Unfortunately, there was no room available at that time, but I was free to leave my name on a waiting list. I suppose I was to pack “the kid” around in my backpack until there was an opening? As for daycare off campus, I found very few were willing to take newborns, and those that did were cost-prohibitive on a student’s limited budget.
Then there was dealing with the cost of delivery. I didn’t want to think about it, but I knew somehow “it” had to get OUT of me. It turned out that there was no maternity coverage in my student healthcare. Some schools offered abortion coverage in their healthcare, but few would pay a dime for delivery or post-natal care.
I was a pregnant 21-year-old student facing the facts of no place to live, no place to leave a child while in class, and no help in paying for delivery from my university health insurance. I placed more phone calls that week than any week of my life. At any time it would have seemed far easier to make one phone call, one appointment where they take MasterCard, Visa, and Discover, and be rid of the whole situation.
I was adamantly pro-choice when I became pregnant, as in card-carrying, bumper-sticker on the car pro-choice, because I drank the Kool-Aid and that’s what real feminists believed, or so I thought at that time. And I have to tell you that the decision I made, the choice I made, was embarrassingly flippant.
I didn’t weigh the morality of the issue; I wasn’t in that place in my life. I didn’t think about slogans or political stances; there was no bumper sticker that could make this decision for me. I did what most anyone in my position would do: I looked at my own survival. I took a mental inventory of what kind of financial resources and emotional support I had. I felt as though all of my plans for the future were derailed with that little pink plus sign on the pregnancy test.
I transferred to a smaller campus to be closer to family. We moved into an apartment large enough for a child. I did a little digging and found out I could be covered under family health insurance. Essentially, I found that I didn’t have a compelling reason to terminate the pregnancy.
Well, that “lack of a compelling reason” has a name, and it is Emily. She’s 19 and just finished her first year at college.
I was able to find a way to have her without relying on the school’s programs, but so many other students are not that fortunate. Even with the larger issues of housing, daycare, and maternity coverage being addressed, you’re still left with parking spaces far from campus and desks that don’t accommodate a pregnant woman’s figure. Student parents are often forced to change diapers on bathroom floors and find privacy for nursing in bathroom stalls.
When a woman becomes pregnant on campus, she looks around and sees that there are no resources, there is no support, and there are no examples to look up to. It feels like there is no choice.
Over the next few years, another pregnancy, and thanks to the pre-natal book, Your Pregnancy Week by Week, I slowly realized that I was being inconsistent in my views. I realized abortion is a huge civil rights abuse, the largest in my day. It was about subjugating an entire class of people and about forcing women to pass as men. I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of changing that.
I was in the process of writing a letter to the DNC in 1996 which later became an article called “The Pro-Life View from the Left.” In the article, I pushed for affordable health care, housing, and daycare for pregnant women. I shared it with a group of friends, and one of them said to me, “Sounds like Feminists for Life.” I am still here.
I am proud to work for an organization that believes women deserve better than abortion. And I will continue to work so no woman feels forced to choose between her future or her Emily.
Ms. Winn is a graduate of Indiana University. She splits her time between FFL’s office in DC and her home in the Pacific Northwest where her two daughters attend college and continues to serve as Feminists for Life Vice President, moderating FFL Pregnancy Resource ForumsSM and speaking internationally.
To book FFL Vice President Sally Winn or our other remarkable speakers to your next campus or pro-life event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.