Op-Ed: Pregnant on campus

Monday, March 14, 2016 - 6:20pm

A few weeks ago, a bright blue board on the Diag sponsored by Students for Life stood next to the Shapiro Undergraduate Library advertising for an initiative called Pregnant on Campus. This project’s goal is to provide pregnant or parenting students with the support, resources and information they need to continue their education even while they are dealing with the added pressures of pregnancy or raising children. Our group holds office hours where students can come talk to their peers in a safe, non-judgmental environment, and we gather resources, references and information so that pregnant or parenting students can find what they need without spending hours searching the Internet. This year, we have even established a Pregnant on Campus scholarship. But our efforts are tainted by the misconceptions and controversies that are attached to our pro-life label. We see this all the time, and our Diag board was no exception — if you looked closely, you could see someone’s black Sharpie addition: “Abortions are OK too.”

The vandalism in and of itself was not particularly upsetting to me, despite the hours of our time and the investment of our club’s money that went into the advertisement. Even the message itself was understandable, because abortion does remain a legal and viable choice for a pregnant student. What bothered me the most was that the graffiti artist’s work implied that Pregnant on Campus is an effort by Students for Life to manipulate and shame women into not choosing abortion. This is an assumption that underlies many conversations that I have had with pro-choice and even some pro-life people, and I think it is important to clarify our true intentions.

My question is this: If a woman wants to carry her child to term, and the biggest barrier is her fear that she will not be able to finish her education and pursue her goals because of societal pressures and factors out of her control, is abortion a “good enough” solution for her? Is it acceptable to encourage her to make that choice, instead of demanding that change be made on a societal level to ensure that she will still be supported and empowered throughout her pregnancy and beyond?

This is not to say this is the only situation in which a woman would consider abortion, and I do not by any means wish to imply that a woman makes the decision to abort lightly. But the issue of finishing her education is something every pregnant college student will think about, and it is not fair to her that she might feel forced into abortion because of a lack of support and resources. To me, empowering a woman’s right to choose does not mean pushing her toward abortion solely because society has failed to provide for her and her child. It means that if she is even considering making the brave and sometimes terrifying decision to parent or to give her child to an adoptive family, she knows she will be supported and encouraged every step of the way.

One of the long-term goals of Pregnant on Campus is to make the University of Michigan a place that both acknowledges and respects the rights that pregnant women are granted by Title IX, which forbids universities from discriminating on the basis of sex. Since pregnancy is something only a woman can ever experience, any structures of society that punish her for being pregnant are inherently sexist, and Title IX recognizes that to create equal opportunities for women, pregnant students need to be given special support to stay in school. For example, one of the biggest impacts of Title IX is that professors cannot penalize a student’s grade in any way because of a doctor-approved, pregnancy-related absence and must give the student a reasonable amount of time to make up work regardless of the attendance policy for any other students.

Policies such as these increase a woman’s agency to choose by allowing her to consider decisions that might otherwise seem impossible to make. As a pro-life group, we are not afraid to say this increase in support for pregnant students has the potential to reduce the number of abortions sought by college-age women. And we would celebrate this outcome, because it would mean that young women are being given what they need to truly make their own decisions, free from restrictions imposed by a lack of resources. At the most basic level, Students for Life is built on a respect for all human life, not just the life of the unborn. That means we are dedicated to caring about women, too, and protecting their rights and their freedoms.

So the next time you see Pregnant on Campus’ name on the Diag, try to look past your preconceived notions of what it means to be pro-life. Try to understand that what Pregnant on Campus strives for is something that I believe pro-choice groups also seek passionately — the support and empowerment of women in our society. A woman should never have to choose between her child and her education, and it is up to us to make our University a place where she feels strong and supported enough to have both.

If you are pregnant or parenting and looking for support, please do not hesitate to contact Pregnant on Campus at pregnantinfo@umich.edu.