When I first mentioned Columbia Right to Life's Support for Pregnant Students Initiative to friends and administrators, they asked, "But are there any pregnant women on campus? I rarely ever see pregnant students." Is there a specific quota of students in a particular group that much be reached within the student population in order for a few to have their rights represented? We would not apply some arbitrary standard to other marginalized demographics on campus who, like pregnant students, have unique needs. Even if, hypothetically, there is only one student who has distinct needs due to his or her gender, religious, or any other identity, I believe we would still advocate on the student's behalf. The Columbia community has historically claimed to be a place of extraordinary diversity and endless possibilities, and even what some observers consider to be a "radical" acceptance of individual rights. The progressive spirit of Columbia inspires most of us to proudly advocate for social justice, and we are naturally provoked to action when we witness injustice. But the parenting students and pregnant students who decide to sustain their pregnancies on our campus have previously lacked a collective voice here to advocate for their own rights. As a result, their needs are neglected at best—if not forgotten entirely. Accommodations, such as special interest housing and safe spaces, are granted to other groups in our community. But I personally knew a Columbia sophomore this semester who chose to take a leave of absence to sustain her pregnancy and she has told me she fears that, when she returns to campus in January, she will be neglected by the administration and not provided the necessary resources for her childcare. She also fears that her peers may possibly reject her because of her decision to sustain a child. To see the lack of support that "pro-life" students receive, we need look no further than this past semester. Just a month ago, the CU College Democrats urged Columbia to ensure full coverage of students' abortions. The petition made the case for students who wanted to have confidential abortion coverage, stating, "When faced with a difficult medical situation, we should be able to rely on our community here for support." Health Services quickly responded by implementing a fund for confidential services that would include abortions. As it is, undergraduate students who decide to sustain their pregnancies do not receive similar support and attention from the University. There is a crucial discrepancy here. The discrepancy sadly implies that we don't need to recognize the individual's rights until we deem them worthy of recognition. By meeting the needs of these students but ignoring the needs of students who sustain their pregnancies, we appear to imply that a "pro-life" pregnant woman does not deserve the same rights as the woman who chooses to abort. This is the defeating message communicated to the pregnant woman whose prenatal care and future childcare are not treated with the same urgency and magnitude as students' abortions are. It is unacceptable for the University to provide support for students have abortions while simultaneously failing to provide resources to accommodate those who keep their baby. The goal of the Support for Pregnant Students Initiative is to change the lack of resources and to break down the stigma that's attached to unplanned pregnancies on college campuses. When a friend and I recently learned that a Barnard senior had given birth to her daughter during her undergraduate career, we both reacted with shock and disbelief. It's not pregnancy that is rare among Columbia undergraduates (one visit to Health Services indicates that pregnancy screenings are scheduled with comparable frequency to vaccines and PPD testing)—it's sustained pregnancies that are truly rare. We inevitably became more curious about how she continued with a normal life. While a woman who has an abortion has a good chance of keeping it confidential in many cases, a pregnant woman can't prevent her belly from eventually showing. It's almost expected that in addition to the judgmental stares of her peers, a pregnant woman will face a combination of societal pressures and inadequate resources that truly remove her right to choose life—a life of freedom for herself that she might not realize she could have with a baby. While I cannot speak from firsthand experience, I want to introduce those who can into the conversation about pregnancy on campus: the Columbia women who sustain their pregnancies amid the many challenges that are unique to undergraduates. With Columbia's influence, we have the opportunity to help pregnant women, and thus live up to the progressive values of social justice, autonomy, and women's health that we proclaim. The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in psychology and Middle Eastern history. She is the president of Columbia Right to Life and leads the Support for Pregnant Students Initiative. To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Columbia Spectator Staff