Victory For Pregnant & Parenting Students, Teens, and Victims of Violence

by Cayce D. Utley

Our vision of on-campus resource centers for pregnant and parenting students became reality through the Pregnancy Assistance Fund!

In summer of 2011, Feminists for Life celebrated the establishment of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund for Pregnant and Parenting Students, largely inspired by Feminists for Life’s work on college campuses to develop resources for this underserved population. The Office of Adolescent Health in the Department of Health and Human Services distributed the awards — the first federal grants of their kind — to 17 states and territories and 13 tribes this September.

The fund includes four components: supporting pregnant and parenting students at institutions of higher education, supporting pregnant and parenting teens, supporting pregnant victims of violence, and increasing public awareness of new or existing pregnancy and parenting support services. FFL’s work in each of these areas laid much of the foundation for the Pregnancy Assistance Fund.

“When we think about the history of gaining support for each portion of this new law, we can see that FFL’s long-term focus on meaningful solutions engenders support from people on both sides of political and ideological divides. We’ve taken woman-centered solutions to a whole new level — outside the abortion wars. Now everyone — especially educators at our finest universities and colleges — can work together to answer the unmet needs of women,” said FFL President Serrin M. Foster.

The first portion of the fund’s legislation is based on FFL’s seventeen years of work to address the needs of pregnant women, birthparents, and parents on college campuses. An FFL-inspired bill in Michigan served as the model for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act, which enjoyed bipartisan support and led to the creation of a core element of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund. Through a matching grant, institutions of higher education will develop resources for the underserved population of pregnant and parenting students.

FFL first worked with Michigan Right to Life at the state level to introduce legislation to establish on-campus resources for pregnant and parenting students enrolled in college. That bill soon became the federal Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act (2005, 2007), created to provide grants to colleges and universities across the United States for annual pregnancy and parenting resource forums and a central office to coordinate, promote, and develop resources and support on and off campus.

In 2008, FFL revealed results from its 2007 national survey of pregnancy resources and support, “Perception Is Reality.” The study clearly showed a widespread perceived lack of basic resources on college campuses. Often help was either unavailable or not well communicated, leaving pregnant and parenting students to feel unwelcome and unsupported. “The study confirmed everything we feared to be true — and makes the case for the Pregnancy Assistance Fund grants,” Foster said.

The second section of the fund is devoted to teen mothers and was largely shaped by the first section of the bill creating services for pregnant and parenting students and birthmothers in college. Grantees awarded funds in this area will support pregnant and parenting teenagers through qualifying high schools and community service centers.

The third portion of the fund is devoted to serving pregnant women who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. FFL has a long record of activism for victims of violence. “As the only pro-life group active in the coalition to pass the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, and the only feminist organization to support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, Feminists for Life is eager to see grantees working on behalf of this vulnerable population in need,” said Foster, who testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in support of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as Laci and Connor’s Law. “We refuse to choose between these different efforts. Oftentimes these issues overlap, especially when it comes to victims of coercion who are in high school or college, or living in poverty.”

Foster congratulated the first states to be awarded the grants, adding, “We are eager to help those at the state and federal levels who are working to serve pregnant women and victims of violence, and we are ready to share our unique expertise with university and college administrators.”

Without FFL’s work in each of these areas, it is difficult to imagine the establishment of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund. “Pregnancy and parenting should never terminate an education,” Foster said. “No woman, no parent, should be forced to choose between her education and career or her child. Pregnant and parenting students deserve better — which includes birthparents and student dads like mine — and everyone deserves equal access to educational opportunities. Teenaged mothers and their children also need our support. And those who are most vulnerable, including victims of violence, must be supported. These first awards are an important next step in realizing the vision of our feminist foremothers who urged the women’s movement to systematically address the reasons that drive women to abortion.”

In summer of 2011, Feminists for Life urged state governments to apply for the first federal grants, which range from $500,000 to $2 million dollars each for up to three years. Twenty-four million dollars in grants were awarded 17 states and 13 tribes for various programs designed to support pregnant women and parents.

FFL is offering technical assistance to states awarded federal grants through this program. As the creator of the higher education component of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund, FFL will offer direct assistance to universities and colleges who are awarded the matching funds to implement the program.

This is what we have been working towards for the past seventeen years,” Foster added. “We want to see this program succeed in its first three years so that other states will be encouraged to develop their own programs when the opportunity arises for states to reapply in 2013. We urge colleges and universities to lay the groundwork for the next wave of grants now. FFL is ready to work with them to advance progressive solutions for women who are pregnant.

“While the investment in these programs is modest, the return will be priceless,” Foster said.

 

The list of current awards and details about each funded program can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/ash.