Imagine if I became pregnant tomorrow and wanted to keep the child. Besides having to explain myself to my parents, what would my next step be? Tell my Dean?
The chances of getting pregnant at Yale aren’t as low as one might hope. According to a recent Yale Daily News survey, 34 percent of sexually active female student respondents said they had experienced a pregnancy scare at some point in their lives.
So what would one do, when faced with the possibility of pregnancy? One would have to make a choice.
In that same survey, 15 percent of respondents said they had used Plan B at least once over the course of their four years at Yale. Only one respondent said she had terminated a pregnancy. Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin said terminations of pregnancies on campus are not common — only a few abortions are requested on campus a year. He attributed this decline to increased availability of free contraception.
Genecin said determining whether a mother desires the pregnancy is the first priority. “We believe students have the right to choose,” he said.
The word “choice” implies more than one option, but the term “pro-choice” defines a movement that primarily supports the right to have an abortion. The pro-choice movement saw judicial endorsement of its central aim in Roe v. Wade, which made abortion an option for women across the country. Legalizing abortion is not an issue much contested at Yale, where there are annual ceremonies celebrating Roe v. Wade. But has campus sympathy for the pro-choice movement eliminated the “choice” from discussions of what to do altogether?
I’ve never seen students pushing strollers into the library or leaving class early to make it to daycare. Parenthood isn’t a visible feature of Yale’s landscape or a talking point on the minds of its students.
Pro-life activists on campus believe this is because students consider abortion the only answer to an unwanted pregnancy. Molly Michaels ’15, member of Choose Life At Yale (CLAY), said that while the university does not push the option of abortion, an unshakeable campus mentality holds that the role of mother is mutually exclusive with the identity of an Ivy League student.
The perception of exclusivity between “Yale student” and “mother” is so deep-seated that for some it extends beyond four years. In an anonymous post on Facebook discussion forum Yale PostSecret, one Yale student admitted that she felt like Yale culture criticized female students who wanted to get married and have children.
“It’s a stigma to want to be anything but an independent woman who don’t need no man for the rest of [her] life,” the post read.
Ultimately, I doubt the author of the anonymous post is the only one who fears that Yale’s proudly progressive campus would bristle at the idea of someone choosing motherhood while still a student.
Margaret Gleberman ’17, who identifies as pro-choice, said that if she were to get pregnant during her Yale career, she would seriously consider terminating the pregnancy. With education and an impending career to consider, she wouldn’t be ready for a child, she said. She doesn’t think many other Yale students would be, either.
Is it purely impractical to have a baby on campus? Michaels said she thinks having a child at Yale is a possibility. With the right support systems in place, she believes, pregnant women could easily apply their “right to life” views. She said the current stigma surrounding pregnancy on campus has prevented the emergence of a culture that is conducive to exercising this right. Instead, students perceive abortion to be the only option.
Courtney McEachon ‘15 is a biomedical engineer from East Amherst, NY. In high school, she began exploring what it meant to be pro-life after learning about conception and abortion in a science class. She wondered: with so many differing opinions on what stage of fetal development constitutes life, how should people begin to make that decision for themselves? Outside the classroom, she pursued pro-life discussion, and became president of CLAY as a sophomore.
Last year, the group was invited to a reading of a play for one student’s senior project. When she arrived at the theater, an usher handed her a pamphlet explaining the restrictions on abortion and why these restrictions should be lifted. There was a pro-life woman on stage, McEachon said, whose views were torn apart, criticized, and mocked. The scene upset her, but her overwhelming feeling was concern. Art that makes a statement is not difficult to find at Yale. But finding art that discusses a less popular campus view? McEachon said it’s difficult.
“I wasn’t sure if this was an isolated experience or part of a bigger trend,” she said, explaining that she could not recall many instances of art or performance that even discussed the benefits of pro-life. But she could easily list examples of shows in which abortion was easily discussed, a trend she feels is representative of an imbalance within the arts as a venue for conversation.
The play McEachon saw wasn’t the only one in recent memory to examine the issue of abortion onstage. In the spring of 2014, the Yale Dramat’s production of Dry Land, written by Ruby Spiegel ‘15, portrayed a high school girl, who, upon finding herself pregnant, immediately attempts to end the pregnancy with the aid of a classmate and friend — through the desperate means available to them. The play was staged in New York City in September 2014 by Colt Coeur productions, a Brooklyn based theater company, and was reviewed positively by Ben Brantley of the New York Times, who emphasized Spiegel’s maturity as a playwright.
Yale was placed under a far less positive media microscope when Aliza Shvarts ‘08 proposed a controversial art piece for her senior project. On April 17, 2008, the Yale Daily News reported that Shvarts had artificially inseminated herself numerous times over the course of nine months and then induced miscarriages with abortifacient drugs. These miscarriages were video taped and blood samples from the process were preserved, the News reported.
“I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity,” Shvarts told the News.
Several hours after the story was published, a statement from Yale spokesperson Helaine Klasky defined the miscarriages as a piece of “creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body.” There was no human blood involved, the statement confirmed.
Surprisingly, despite the controversial content, many pro-life students cite the University’s closure of the project as a negative consequence of a wider administrative reluctance to discuss abortion.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re pro-life or pro-choice, people just don’t want to talk about abortion,” McEachon said. For her, the willingness of writers, directors and artists to do so does not stem from administrative policies, or from wider campus culture.
But, students who have approached Yale Health with questions were met with the same uncertainty. Laura (whose real name I’ve withheld at her request) recently acquired Plan B from Yale Health. After having unprotected sex in a different city, Laura returned to New Haven assuming that the emergency contraception would be subsidized by her Yale Basics health plan. Yale Health offers students and Yale affiliates two kinds of coverage: the Yale Basics health plan and the Hospitalization/Specialty plan. The basic plan that Laura had is given only to students who also have outside insurance. However, despite the difference in coverage options, Laura assumed that Plan B would be free, given that most contraception is covered by Yale Basics.
Unable to confirm this online, Laura called Yale Health directly. She was referred to three different departments, including OB/GYN and the pharmacy, none of which could tell her whether the drug was covered by her health plan. After being referred a final time, she was told Plan B was not covered and she would have to pay retail price. At Yale Health, no student — whether on the basic plan or the complete one — can access the drug at a reduced price.
“I might as well have gone to Walgreens,” she said.
But Laura was most confused by a policy she described as “ludicrous.” While Plan B costs $40, abortion, which, according to the Planned Parenthood website, can cost up to $800, is completely covered under both Yale Basics and the full health plan. More robust coverage for contraception would provide students with more options when they are facing medical scares, she said.
For some college students, having children in college is an option. In 2011, The Dartmouth reported that five students had seen their pregnancies to term the previous year. Each of the students continued living on campus and graduated shortly after.
When asked if there was a policy that would cater to the living situation of a student mother, members of Yale administration did not return a request for comment. The current housing policy does not allow a freshman or sophomore to live off campus unless the student is married or over the age of 21.
While Dartmouth housing policy does not specifically address what would happen in the incident of a pregnancy, it does not require students living with a “dependent” to live on campus – even as early as freshman year.
Amidst campus-wide discussion about withdrawal regulations and financial aid, Genecin said the decision to stay in school depends on the personal circumstances of the student. “Naturally a student with good social supports will have an easier time balancing the needs of her studies,” he said. An undergraduate student with a spouse or partner, or the means to pay for daycare, could be better equipped to carry her pregnancy to term. Genecin added that there is no standard recommendation given to students, but Michaels wonders if a student who became pregnant would ever be advised to stay in school.
Michaels said she does not think that the physical structures on campus can currently accommodate for a student mother. As she moves forward with the work of CLAY, she said she hopes to see baby-changing facilities in bathrooms, and options for mothers to live in special housing and have options for daycare.
For me, the idea of balancing the hormonal and physical changes of pregnancy alongside taking midterms and operating on an already nocturnal body clock is terrifying. And what about what happens when the baby is born?
According to a 2013 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about four million or 25 percent of college students in the United States had dependent children, according to institute researchers’ analysis of the 2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey. But being a parent, the report continues, “substantially increases” the chance of leaving college without a degree. Fifty-three percent of parents, compared with 31 percent of nonparents, left with no degree after six years.
The concept of a pregnant student on campus may remain an imaginary situation for a long time to come — it can be reduced to a point of political contention, or a hypothetical question for medical policy setters. But what if someone chooses to carry a pregnancy to term?. We might not all be required to make the choice for ourselves, but the idea of “choice” — whether a cultural, medical or administrative one — is something students should be able to discuss.