My college has very few mothers. Nearly all of our students are traditional-aged singles. There are only a handful of married students, and we will have maybe one or two parents in the regular student body at any given time. I do not encourage my students to marry while they are in college, and I certainly would not encourage them to have kids as undergraduates. And our students set that same standard for themselves. They graduate at high rates, and most marry and have kids after that, and in that order. College women in general have low pregnancy rates; Centre women are likely to have even lower pregnancy rates than their peers.
Still, sometimes Things Happen. I know of a few students who have gotten pregnant. Some have dropped out altogether, some have stopped out and come back later, and a few have transferred elsewhere. I don’t personally know of any student abortions, but I know there must be a couple or a few each year, according to estimates by our wellness center. In very rare cases the couple has married and both have continued on track to graduation. And in these cases, having a baby on campus has been good for the college. It happens so rarely here that our students can rally ‘round and be a great help to the young couple.
I mention all of this because of the “Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act of 2005.” This bill, sponsored by Elizabeth Dole in the Senate and Melissa Hart in the House, would provide $10 million for a pilot program to help college campuses be more supportive of pregnant students and student parents. Just what colleges and universities would do would with the money would vary all over the lot – which is the kind of experimentation that pilot programs are designed to encourage. Already, using volunteer labor and university funds, students at the University of Virginia created a baby-sitting service for other student parents, while Wellesley students had a rummage sale to benefit pregnant and parenting mothers in the student body.
This act is the main legislative project of Feminists for Life. They take a centrist position on one of the most contested and divisive issues in America. Feminists for Life argue that pregnant women, no matter how well or ill prepared they were to become pregnant, deserve better options than either abortion or going it alone. The organization provides support for women having kids, especially single young women. Feminists for Life have taken Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a founding mother of feminism, as their icon and patron, because she was a feminist mother who thought that abortion was a tool men used to control women. Feminists for Life came into the news when John Roberts was nominated for the Supreme Court, as his wife, Jane, was a board member and supportive lawyer. Indeed, that is why I looked them up, and how I know about this bill.
The Stanton Act seems to me a good centrist approach to what is often a tragic choice for young women. College women do have low pregnancy rates, but they also have high abortion rates. They tend to see babies and education as a zero-sum choice. Indeed, I think the pro-choice lobby commonly says that very thing. And truly, succeeding in college while caring for children is a huge challenge, which I would not recommend as a plan. Still, when unplanned babies begin, it does not mean the end of the mother’s – or the father’s -- education, much less their lives. I have seen examples of couples who have risen to the challenge, even at a young age and at a hard school.
I have no idea if the Stanton Act has a real chance of passage in Congress, but I support it as legislation and strongly support the attitude behind it.