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Pregnant college students need support, not abortion, speaker says

By Christine M. WilliamsPilot Correspondent
Posted: 4/1/2011

BOSTON -- A college student staring at a positive pregnancy test has limited options. She likely has few financial resources and may find that her school offers scant help.

Many college health plans do not cover pregnancy and would not cover her child after birth. Family housing and daycare are limited if available at all. There are probably no changing tables on campus. Even if assistance is available, she may not know how to find it.

Each year 10 percent of college-age women become pregnant, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization founded by Planned Parenthood. Women 18-24 accounted for 44.4 percent of all abortions in 2008, and 74 percent of women who have abortions say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities.

Recently, a group of students from Northeastern University were asked what they would do if they faced a positive pregnancy test -- theirs or their girlfriend's.

Many of them were unaware of the fact that Northeastern does not provide family housing, daycare for newborns or changing tables. A pregnant student would have limited options for making a flexible class schedule. On the other hand, the school health plans do cover maternity and children born to students.

The March 24 event, sponsored by Northeastern University Right to Life, featured a speaker who was a pregnant college student four years ago.

Chaunie M. Brusie, Feminists for Life's college outreach program coordinator, spent a summer interning with FFL. A month after she returned to school in the fall, she learned that she was pregnant.

Brusie said she was devastated, overwhelmed and in shock after she took the pregnancy test. She was a 21-year-old college senior, unmarried, living in a run-down apartment and taking her laundry home on weekends. Even with her strong pro-life beliefs, the thought of abortion crossed her mind.

"In that instant, staring down at the two tiny lines that represented the most dramatic change in my life, I understood how women facing unplanned pregnancies can turn to abortion. In that moment of panic and fear, it does not feel like a new life, but rather the end of life as you know it. A million questions race through your mind -- what will people think, what will I do, how can this be happening? You just wish it wasn't happening, wish you could rewind time, wish it would go away," she wrote in one of a series of letters that were distributed by FFL in 2007.

Brusie turned to the student health center for help. In the exam room, Brusie broke down and the nurse left her there, "sobbing uncontrollably," in order to see another patient.

Through her own research, Brusie learned that her school did not have health care coverage for maternity and though the school had previously had family housing and day care, the school had eliminated both only a couple of years before.

After she discovered the lack of resources available, she decided to petition the school for help. She met with the Director of Health Services, who turned out to be the nurse practitioner she met with previously. The director was defensive at first, but by the end of the meeting, she was in complete agreement that the approach toward pregnant students needed to change.

Brusie organized a Rally for Resources, an FFL event that has since expanded to other schools across the country. She married her boyfriend, the father of her child, over Christmas break and graduated with honors one week before her daughter was born.

"It is possible for women to continue with their educations, with their career goals, with their dreams. FFL refuses to choose. So do I," she said.

Brusie told the students that although her journey was very difficult, she learned she could rise to the challenge. In the end, it led Brusie to her "dream job," giving talks across the country about pro-life feminism.

Pro-choice feminists see the problems a woman faces during an unplanned pregnancy and offer the solution of abortion. But from its earliest stages, feminism was about defending the rights of all human beings. At its core, feminism rejects the use of force to dominate another, she said.

Brusie quoted suffragist Sarah Norton, who successfully argued for women's admission to Cornell University, "Perhaps there will come a time when ... an unmarried mother will not be despised because of her motherhood ... and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with."

Brusie said that if there are sexually active students at Northeastern, then there are pregnant students. "There are pregnant women on this campus, and if you aren't seeing them, something's wrong," she said.

She encouraged those gathered to petition for resources to help pregnant and parenting students.

Rachel Regonini, president of the Right to Life group, called being pro-life in college a "struggle." Other students have torn down the group's fliers and verbally attacked its members at an information booth.

"Northeastern is a very liberal campus, so we don't get much support for events," she said.

Katherine Hoarn, a senior studying English who is active with Northeastern's Catholic community, noted that she has never seen a pregnant woman on campus.

"It seems so against the norm to be pregnant while in college," she told The Pilot. "If we're pro-life and want women to keep their babies or give them up for adoption, we should be offering support for them."