I have a friend who had her first child when she was working toward her PhD in psychology at Florida State. For the first two years of their daughter’s life, she and her husband were able to successfully balance work and family life with the help of onsite daycare at the school. But they lost access to that when the COVID pandemic hit. My friend and her fellow parenting students then had to totally rearrange their lives to accommodate their kids’ needs while continuing their own education. This is one example of a real life issue the pro-life community needs to be mindful of in this time after Roe vs. Wade: How do we support pregnant and parenting college students and their families?
According to research published by the Guttmacher Institute in 2005, 38% of women who had had abortions did so because they thought having a child would interfere with their education. Furthermore, according to the 2009 National Survey of Family Growth, 61% of pregnant community college students drop out of school. Seeing numbers like this, it’s easy to see why pregnant college students would at least be tempted to consider having an abortion. Being a parent is a full-time job. Being a student is also a full-time job. Not only that, but students who do choose to raise their kids have to take on outside work to provide for themselves and their families and fund their education.
We’re quick to applaud student parents who successfully complete their education while caring for their children, and we should. I don’t want to downplay their accomplishments at all. But I also don’t want the pro-life side to downplay the unique challenges they face. Just because we hold these parents up to be superheroes doesn’t mean they don’t need help and support in achieving their goals.
On the other hand, the fact that they often lack the extra help and support they need leads some in the pro-choice community to believe that aborting their babies is the only reasonable course of action for them to take. Pro-choice authors Ilana Horwitz, Kaylee Matheny, and Natalie Milan said as much in a September 2021 article: “As sociologists of education, we were curious why nearly a third of all college students still don’t have a degree six years later. We analyzed longitudinal interviews from a diverse sample of 220 American teenagers who were interviewed repeatedly between 2003-2013 as part of the National Study of Youth and Religion. We found that people dropped out of college for several reasons: financial hardship, academic difficulties, health crises, and yearning to enter the workforce. But the most common reason was unplanned pregnancy.”
Yes, having a child is a major responsibility. Yes, it’s difficult to juggle school, work, and caring for a child. But why should we be so quick to say that babies are a liability that ruin their parents’ chances at success? Why do we blame their existence as the problem? As pro-lifers, we think the lack of support these students are facing is the real problem and want to see those issues addressed instead of offering up abortion as the solution.
The people in charge of the Baby Steps program at Auburn University understand this well. Michelle Schultz, its founder and Executive Director, got pregnant while she was a student there with her future husband Matt. She chose to have an abortion but regretted that decision. One of the main reasons motivating her to abort her child was the feeling that she had no place to turn to for support. Twelve years later, the couple founded Baby Steps so no other Auburn student would feel as alone as they had.
The program offers students free housing and child care, counseling services, access to food and necessary baby items, a support group for student moms, resources for financial aid and school scholarships, academic advising and tutoring, medical care, and life skills classes. In addition to Auburn, the program has spread to the University of Alabama and the University of Central Florida. It eventually hopes to set up shop on college campuses nationwide.
Serrin Foster and her organization Feminists for Life of America have been instrumental in spearheading a movement to combat the issues pregnant and parenting students are facing. In 1997, they hosted the first annual Pregnancy Resource Forum at Georgetown University, a panel discussion for the purpose of evaluating what resources student parents had on campus and identifying areas where the school could improve. They also started an advertising campaign on more than 600 college campuses nationwide to give students information about life-affirming pregnancy support. Years later, this group’s work has had a positive effect: within the first ten years of Feminist for Life’s College Outreach Program, Planned Parenthood reported a 30 percent drop in abortions amongst college educated women.
This is what the future of the pro-life movement needs to look like. We need to talk about these issues. We need to talk about affordable education, child care, housing, and maternity care for student parents and their kids. And we should do it in a way that we’re not dismissive of the pro-choice side’s arguments. After all, they do have legitimate concerns surrounding this topic. Instead, we should pay close attention to what they’re saying and brainstorm ways that we can move forward together. That’s what will bring about positive and lasting change in our country. As Serrin Foster once said, “Don't look at each other as the enemy. The only enemies we have are the status quo and accepting failure."