For many Yale women, the concepts of pregnancy and college education seem mutually exclusive. Each year, hundreds of women on campus use various forms of contraception, and each year, several undergo abortions when those contraceptives fail. But for Sarah Hartmann ’06, pregnancy and college are fully compatible. Hartmann gave birth to a girl, Olivia, 10 weeks ago, and she has remained enrolled as a full-time undergraduate student. She is currently waiting to hear whether or not she has been accepted into a rigorous nursing certification program at Yale’s School of Nursing.
Hartmann said she and her husband planned the pregnancy, fully intending for Hartmann to continue pursuing her academic and professional goals. She never considered that to stay at Yale she would have to terminate her pregnancy.
“I am pro-choice,” Hartmann said. “I feel that a woman needs to be comfortable with the idea of being a mother if she is going to keep the pregnancy. Otherwise, she won’t be able to handle it. I made the choice to get pregnant feeling like I could handle it and knowing that it was what I wanted.”
Hartmann’s decision is far from common at Yale, and the increasing polarization between work and motherhood — or at least the perception of such an increase — remains an issue for young women. The issue was brought to Yale’s, and the nation’s, attention last September in Louise Story ’03 SOM ’06’s controversial New York Times article “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” which suggested a disconnect between a modern woman’s professional career and the responsibilities of a mother. With that perception comes the belief that the two are irreconcilable.
But as medical and technological advances make contraceptives more and more powerful, the ethics of abortion remain hotly debated among some campus organizations 33 years after Roe v. Wade.
For women who do feel that pregnancy and college are incompatible, Yale provides more than just a wide variety of contraceptive options.
Women covered by the Yale Health Plan — which includes all undergraduates, even those who waived Yale medical insurance — are eligible for as many abortions as they need, free of charge and without parental notification required.
But only a miniscule number of female students take advantage of this option. Yale University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said the number of undergraduates who have abortions is between five and 12 per year, and figures among the graduate and professional school populations are only “slightly higher,” he said.
“There has never been any reason to create any kind of limit, arbitrary or otherwise, on the number of abortions a woman can get at YUHS,” Genecin said.
Women covered under the Yale Health Plan can also obtain emergency contraception at YUHS, either in advance or at the time of an emergency, in accordance with the discretion of their individual clinicians. Genecin said he believes the “morning after pill” will soon be available without a prescription.
“I believe the field is moving in the direction of offering emergency contraception over the counter, and I think it would be a fine thing to do,” he said. “Most of us probably believe it should be offered over-the-counter. We believe there should be easy and free access to it for all Yale students.”
Yale’s abortion policies stand in contrast to those in place at Harvard, where university insurance only covers part of the procedural costs, according to Deborah Small, a nurse in the Center for Wellness at Harvard University Health Services. This can create complications for some students, Small said, if their parents receive billing from the secondary insurance company used to cover the remainder of the abortion costs.
But Yale and Harvard are alike in their practices of referring all abortion patients to off-site clinics. When a woman at Yale elects to terminate a pregnancy, through either a medical or surgical abortion, she is referred to Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, located a relatively brief walk away from campus on Whitney Avenue. No abortions are performed at YUHS.
All patients at Planned Parenthood are provided with counseling as part of standard protocol, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said. She said all women are informed of all of their options before any procedure is undertaken, including the possibilities of carrying the pregnancy to term or giving the child up for adoption — though Yolen said few women choose the latter course of action.
A source of ceaseless contention
This policy of ensuring that a woman has information about all of her options, including the possibility of keeping her pregnancy, represents a point of overlap between pro-choice and pro-life groups on campus, particularly the Reproductive Rights Action League of Yale and Choose Life at Yale. But for the most part, students on the two sides of the abortion issue on campus rarely see eye-to-eye.
RALY co-president Rachel Criswell ’07 said RALY’s stance does not exclude CLAY’s — both organizations support the decision to carry a child to term. But on the issue of abortion itself, there is little room for compromise. RALY even has a general policy of not engaging CLAY in dialogue of any sort, because the organization does not see abortion as an issue that can be debated.
“We at RALY believe that a person’s right to chose and be reproductively healthy is nonnegotiable, so we don’t see debates as being productive,” said Eve Fine ’07, an intern at Planned Parenthood and a leader of RALY.
But leaders of CLAY said they welcome discussion with those on the other side of the abortion debate. CLAY President Geoff Ellis ’07 and former president Debbie Bedolla ’07 both said their organization would like to reach out to passionately pro-choice groups as well as the undecided or ambivalent.
“It is a goal of our organization to engage groups like RALY in dialogue, especially concerning the common ground we share of being concerned for pregnant women and doing what is really best for women in general,” Ellis said.
Still, both CLAY and RALY agree that dialogue on campus about abortion is not sufficiently common or public. Fine said that while Yale tends to be a liberal campus — Genecin said Health Services’ primary concern is that women have the right to chose — students do not engage in dialogues about reproductive rights as often as she would like.
“I would like to see more transparency surrounding all of these issues, like abortion and emergency contraception,” Fine said. “I want people to feel comfortable and knowledgeable.”
Beyond the Yale campus, abortion and other reproductive rights issues are hardly hidden or under-discussed. Last Sunday marked the 33rd anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the issue of abortion is more prevalent than ever at the forefront of numerous political, social and religious debates, particularly with regard to Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito LAW ’75.
William Baude LAW ’07 — who wrote an editorial published in Jan. 22’s New York Times titled “State of Confusion”, in which he argued against the growing number of pro-choice advocates who oppose Roe v. Wade — said in an e-mail that he believes both the moral and legal debates about abortion are at an impasse, one that is manifest in RALY’s refusal to even engage in discussion with CLAY.
Maternity at Mother Yale
For the Yale woman who does find herself pregnant, many students said they feel her only options are to drop out of school or get an abortion.
“I don’t think that any woman really wants to have an abortion,” Bedolla said. “Our ultimate goal, the reason we are here, is to make abortion less of an issue at Yale, so that if a female student gets pregnant they don’t feel like abortion is the only option. There are more options besides gett
ing an abortion and giving up on their academic careers.”
Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said Yale has had students in the past who have had children and that the University has “made every accommodation for them,” recognizing their need for “more and different space.” She said some undergraduate mothers have chosen to live in graduate student housing, where children may be better accommodated.
Planned Parenthood of Connecticut spokeswoman Susan Yolen said many schools do not make provisions for single 20-year-old mothers to continue attending classes. While Hartmann said that Yale was accommodating, she also admitted that she has lived off campus since she transferred here.
While Hartmann’s experience shows it is possible for a mother to balance her personal and educational goals, for many young women motherhood and college still linger in conflict.
“It is very hard to try and balance the rigors of academia and motherhood,” Hartmann said. “But for those students who decide to have the child, I don’t think it’s the end of their academic careers. It’s just a postponement.”