Campus Pregnancy and Abortion Access Brought to Light by Student Groups, Health Center

Ethan Ehrenhaft-

2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the momentous Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade , which legalized women’s right to abortion while granting states certain regulatory powers. To commemorate the landmark case and raise awareness for abortion, the student group Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PGGA) hosted “Roe v. Wade Celebration Week” last week at Davidson. PPGA’s effort was funded by the movement Shout Your Abortion, a “decentralized network of individuals talking about abortion on our own terms,” according to the group’s official website.

The Roe v. Wade Week included flyer distribution outside of Chambers, Trivia Night at Summit Outpost, a panel discussion in the Lilly Gallery, and the making of “thank you cards signed to advocacy groups, abortion providers, and pro-choice clinic escorts,” according to PPGA Co-President Caroline Roddey ‘20. Roddey founded the Davidson PPGA chapter last year alongside Emma Granowsky ‘18 and Laney O’Shea ‘19.

PPGA worked in conjunction with Health Adviser Kristen Sands ‘18, who serves as the campus representative for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. NARAL is a national advocacy group for abortion rights. After the organization reached out to campus for volunteers, Sands became the first student to hold the position at Davidson.

Along with abortion, the week also highlighted issues surrounding pregnancy and birth control, topics of high importance on college campuses.  “Sometimes I think students think that Planned Parenthood and NARAL are only focused on abortion rights, but their goals go beyond abortion access,” explained Sands, who continued: “NARAL advocates for access to comprehensive & medically accurate sexual education, birth control, abortion, and the health services needed to ensure a healthy pregnancy.”

While perhaps not as visible as at larger colleges and universities, pregnancy is still a part of Davidson life. Determining the number of student pregnancies is difficult, due to the fact that not all students choose to go through the health center or seek staff help.

According to Health and Substance Abuse Educator Georgia Ringle, the Davidson rate is approximately one to two pregnancies per semester. This number is down from when Ringle came to the school in 1989; Plan B would not be sold for another ten years, and the pill was the only readily available birth control medication.

One notable spike in pregnancies occurred in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. “That December I think there were around seven pregnancies; it was a record,” reflected Ringle. Throughout her experience as Health Educator, she has observed that pregnancies often occur in the wake of hard times such as midterms and finals: “I do think during times of stress people seek each other out, and they sleep together more, whether it be sexual or not.”

Ringle also observed the misperceptions amongst Davidson first-years regarding how many of their peers have already had sexual intercourse before entering college. In an anonymous survey administered to students in Sexuality 101, a Davidson 101 course at the start of the year, about 60% of first-years over the past four years have reported not having sex before entering college. Students always assume a higher percentage have already experienced sex, a belief Ringle says can lead to people rushing into sexual relationships.

Increased sexual education, especially non-abstinence based programs, have been directly linked to “delayed sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners, or increased condom or contraceptive use,” reports the nonprofit Advocates for Youth.

Aside from Davidson 101, Health Advisers also speak to students about sexual health. Sands stated that “we have worked hard to educate students during their first-year hall talks about the availability of a number of birth control options through the Health Center and the resources that are available to students who may become pregnant.”

While the talks introduce first-years to wide variety of birth control and STD prevention options available at Davidson, they are still not without their flaws, say some students. “There’s such a strong focus on heteronormative sexual activity at Davidson, which is understandable because there’s not a very large queer population but still definitely a big flaw in Davidson’s system,” reflected PPGA co-founder O’Shea.

Students seeking to get on alternative forms of birth control can meet with Suzanne Brown ‘91 at the Health Center on Wednesday afternoons for consultation. Brown is a physician assistant (PA) at Davidson Family Medicine who is trained at conducting intrauterine device (IUD) insertions.

“Women want other options; they don’t want to have to take a pill everyday,” said Brown. Twenty-five years ago, condoms and the pill were by and large the only means of contraception. Today Davidson students, with the help of Brown and Health Center referrals, have access to a wide range of birth control options including IUDs, implants, hormone patches, and NuvaRings.

If a student does become pregnant, they have several forms of support provided by the school if they choose to seek help. The Health Center provides counseling and resources.

“Sometimes women choose to keep their pregnancies and have the babies, and often the family or relatives will take that infant in while they are in school here,” said Ringle. She has also had female students come into Davidson pregnant, and male students come in as fathers. Special housing requests due to pregnancy are typically handled through the Residence Life Office.

Abortion is another option for pregnant students, with several clinics available in the area. Ringle often accompanies students to the procedure and any follow-up appointments. “All the women I know have recovered well [after an abortion], [but] it doesn’t mean it’s easy,” expressed Ringle. “It is a mental health challenge; it is a physical challenge, but they can be successful when given enough support.”

To help pay for an abortion procedure, students can apply for an Emergency Loan through the Dean of Students Office. A student can simply apply for a “medical” need in order to maintain privacy. The loan is provided through an endowed fund, and is used for other expensive procedures such as MRIs and x-rays. The loan incurs no interest and can be repaid during the rest of the student’s time at Davidson.

The Chaplain’s Office, as well as the Health Center, is available for counseling when a student is considering pregnancy options. Whatever path a pregnant student decides to take, Ringle stresses, “part of what this office does is give that support, no matter what the circumstance.”

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