American institutions of higher learning have bent over backward to coddle—no, valorize—feminists, blacks, gays, and the disabled. But few of them have given the golden nod to one particularly vulnerable minority: mothers.
As Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life (FFL), a group that has sponsored Pregnancy Resources Forums at Georgetown, Swarthmore, Berkeley, and elsewhere, describes it: “You don’t have a place to live; you don’t have day care; you don’t have maternity coverage. The institutions force women to choose between sacrificing their education or career goals and their child. There’s this really hostile thing about women having babies. Women who are visibly pregnant on college campuses are treated like exotic animals.”
At Yale, the basic health plan (YHP Basic), which is funded in part by student tuition, pays for coeds to have an unlimited number of abortions. It doesn’t, however, cover obstetric care. (Obstetric care is obtainable through supplementary insurance, which all Yale students are required to have either through their families or through the university for a fee.)
According to statistics provided to FFL by a health care center and a nearby pregnancy care center at one university in the Northeast, in just one year, from a total pool of 3000 women students, 600 had pregnancy tests. Three hundred came back positive. Only six women had babies. According to a report published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 52 percent of abortion patients are women under 25.
Why are so many students aborting? Do all of them want to abort, or is it that, without financial and psychological support, those who might want to keep their babies have no alternative? According to Foster, college clinic counselors are telegraphing a strong message about which “choice” they expect women to make: “Most kids who’ve been pregnant and told me about their experiences say that the counselor tells them she’s sorry when she tells them they’re pregnant. One student at George Washington University said that after the counselor told her she was pregnant she automatically reached for a Planned Parenthood card in her Rolodex. There’s only one choice that’s being promoted or accepted.”
The FFL quotes a 1996 Gallup Poll that showed women’s views on abortion are profoundly affected by their college experience. Thirty-seven percent of surveyed women with high school educations were pro-choice, while those who completed four years of college were 73 percent pro-choice. It isn’t just education that’s changing so many women’s minds. The stories some women tell suggest that it’s also biased counseling and ideological pressure.
Mary, a freelance writer who became pregnant in her first year of graduate school, went to the university women’s health center for a pregnancy test. “When it came back positive, the nurse practically pounced on the phone to refer me for what she called a ‘termination.’ She didn’t even pause to let me absorb this life-altering bit of news, let alone ask what I wanted to do.” Other college women tell Foster similar stories.
Another former student, who is now an academic and asked to remain anonymous, sums up her experience as a pro-lifer on campus as follows: “alienation, cognitive dissonance, fragile relationships, and self-censorship.”
Being pro-life can be a liability even for professors. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, a women’s studies professor at Emory University, told me: “While I was still director of women’s studies, I accepted an invitation to speak for FFL in Rochester, New York. When word reached Emory, people were apparently appalled, and shortly thereafter, a group of my colleagues in WS went to the dean behind my back to complain about my work as director. I resigned as a result of those complaints.”
Sheila, who is still a graduate student at an Eastern university, says that when a women’s studies professor for whom she was assistant teaching found out she was pro-life, she angrily accused her of “purposely deceiving her by not telling her this from the beginning.”
No wonder humanities mandarins haven’t spawned a hot new field called maternity studies. Maybe it’s time for FFL to sponsor a lecture series: “Revisionist Herstory: Why Your Women’s Studies Professors Don’t Want You to Know That Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sarah Norton, and Victoria Woodhull Thought Abortion Was Murder.” Go on. Look it up. You know you want to.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 25, 2000