Students, professors and parents can all contribute to this important work.
Are you teaching or studying at a college or university this fall, or do you have a kid away at school? If so, chances are good that you’ve known someone who had an unintended pregnancy. Research finds that almost 5 million undergraduate students are mothers or fathers—and about one in five women will have an abortion by age 25.
Lack of support is a major reason women choose abortion, and by the time someone you know sees that positive pregnancy test, it may be too late to tell her you’ll be there to help her out. A teen or college student in a crisis pregnancy needs to know she can turn to you for help and support.
“One of the worst things that can happen to someone in a crisis pregnancy is to feel isolated,” says Kevin Grillot, Executive Director of weDignify (formerly Students for Life of Illinois), a non-profit organization that “equips, educates and empowers college students to lead pro-life groups on campus and beyond.”
Colleges, peers and parents should plan ahead and lay a groundwork of support for undergraduate parents, so that resources and a caring environment are ready before a young woman even finds out she is pregnant.
Here are strategies for every member of the campus community to build a culture of life …
1If you're a student on campus…
Speak up about your pro-life position and your willingness to help and support women in crisis pregnancies.
“Create, don’t wait, for opportunities to talk about this,” says Grillot. “Mention it to friends, family, that kid you sit next to in class.” WeDignify offers resources to help students begin pro-life groups and share their beliefs with other students.
Peers have enormous influence on each other, so a fellow student who offers support can make a crucial difference for a young woman. “If you wait to talk about this until it comes up, it can seem like no one on campus is pro-life,” Grillot says. If your peers know what you believe, hopefully they will feel comfortable turning to you for help if they face an unplanned pregnancy.
2If you are a professor or administrator…
Advocate for student parents and support parent-friendly policies on campus.
“Often the student parent has to be an advocate for themselves,” says Grillot, which is problematic: A pregnant student should not be put in the position of coming up with her own solutions to finishing school and keeping her baby. Instead, universities or individuals on campus can “compile resources in one place so pregnant students don’t have to ask for it and go to five different offices to find it.” A simple strategy is to assemble a packet of information about financial aid options, rights of student parents, childcare options, and resources for financial and social support. Having this information readily on hand can make a huge difference for pregnant students.
A key but often-overlooked resource is the resident advisor, a student who takes a supervisory role in the dorm. “Resident advisors are trained on how to respond to things like alcohol abuse, but if they find out someone is pregnant, most have no idea what to do next,” Grillot says. Equipping these students with access to resources, such as the information packet mentioned above, is a front-line solution to helping students in crisis pregnancies.
On a broader scale, colleges should work to build an infrastructure of parent-friendly policies and resources. Campuses that are serious about helping student parents can allocate funds to an endowment that offers assistance grants, and designate spaces on campus for mothers to nurse or pump.
3If you are a parent of a student…
Make sure your child and their friends know that you’re a safe person to approach for help and support, no matter what.
The role of parents in helping pregnant students might be the most important one, and laying the groundwork for support starts long before your child heads off to college.
“These are conversations that need to happen in middle school and high school, long before college,” Grillot says. “Your children need to know that they will be loved and cared for no matter what, and you will walk that walk with them if it comes to that.”
It’s not just about supporting your own child either. Odds are good that your child will have a friend face an unintended pregnancy at some point in high school or college. “Knowing that there are people who love them and want to help them is often what makes the difference” for pregnant students, Grillot says.
You are succeeding as a parent if your child has learned to think, “My friend is in serious trouble. I know who I can tell—my mom and dad.”
If every person reading this article found a way to proactively extend support to women in crisis pregnancies, the impact would be enormous. Ultimately what is needed to end abortion is a societal shift toward caring for and supporting parents:
“Abortion is a childcare issue. People don’t consider abortions when they feel confident about their abilities to nurture children. They don’t consider having one when they know they will be supported by family and, more importantly, by society. People consider abortions when having a baby seems like the end of the world. If our society was one that truly supported parenthood, having a baby would not be a crisis.”
But even if it’s not possible to change all of society, most likely it is possible to help one student parent and one baby.
“You don’t need to be an expert,” says Grillot. “If you save one child from abortion, you’ve changed the entire world for that child.”