Pregnant in College: What You Need to Know
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- Unplanned pregnancy can present challenges for college students.
- Students who continue their education while parenting are protected from discrimination.
- Campus health and childcare options can help students navigate their reproductive journeys.
Each year, millions of students become pregnant or start parenting, according to a 2014 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research. For many of these students, pregnancy is unplanned and disrupts their educational path.
Due to the challenges that come with balancing school and parenthood, some students choose not to continue their pregnancies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, people in their twenties accounted for 57% of all reported abortions — a right they were entitled to by law. The U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade gave all people who can become pregnant this right.
But on June 24, 2022 the Supreme Court overturned this decision, making abortion services immediately illegal in at least 23 states.
Abortion Access by State With Roe v. Wade Overturned
In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that retail pharmacies could legally dispense the abortion pill mifepristone, dropping a previous rule that prevented drug stores from doing this. However, pharmacies in states with strict abortion bans like Texas and Alabama will not be able to participate in this new decision.
Regardless of what route you choose to take should you become pregnant while pursuing your degree, here is some helpful information to know.
Rights for Pregnant Students
Under Title IX, students who are pregnant or parenting are protected against discrimination on college campuses. This means your right to continue your education while pregnant or parenting is required by law. Schools must allow for excused absences or medical leave related to pregnancy or childbirth. You are also protected against harassment from other students, faculty, and staff.
Your school must also allow you to return to the same academic status you held prior to any medical leave you take. This includes giving you opportunities to complete any work you may have missed while out. Additionally, pregnant students should be offered the same services provided to students with temporary medical conditions, including remote instruction, at-home tutoring, or independent study.
Though you could speak with each of your professors individually, the best way to ensure your rights are protected is to sit down with your school's Title IX coordinator. Inform them of your pregnancy; keep a record of any pregnancy-related absences and instances of harassment or discrimination. Immediately report instances of discriminatory treatment.
Reproductive Health Options on Campus
Students who do not have a local doctor near their school can sometimes utilize their campus' reproductive health services. However, services can vary greatly by state and institution.
For example, in California, abortion access is guaranteed on campus at all public colleges and universities under the state's Senate Bill 24. In Texas, however, Senate Bill 8 bans abortion after six weeks and awards $10,000 or more to those who turn in medical providers and others who provide access to abortion care or help people access abortion care.
If you are insured under your school's health plan, you'll want to contact them to see what types of contraceptives, including emergency ones, are available to you and at what cost. You'll also want to know if the center offers gynecological care. Not all schools have an on-staff gynecologist, and, in the event that they do not, you may need to seek treatment outside your institution.
One way to seek outside treatment is to use Planned Parenthood's "Find a Health Center" tool. You can search by location and type of service to get access to the resources and treatment options you need.
Continuing Your Education and Childcare Options
Should you choose to continue your pregnancy and hope to balance parenting with pursuing your degree, here are some important things to consider:
- Childcare is expensive, but student parents can often receive discounted care from their institution or decrease costs via government subsidies. According to the nonprofit Childcare Aware of America, the average annual cost for childcare in the U.S. was about $10,170 in 2020. If you're already paying for school, that additional expense can be substantial. Be sure to look for scholarships and daycare grants through your institution or state. Students can find further government childcare resources by state on the Office of Child Care website.
- Earning your degree will likely take extra time. Balancing parenthood and your education is no easy feat, particularly due to the extra expenses. In 2013, young people who gave birth while attending community college were 65% less likely to complete their degrees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it's important to remember that it's not impossible, and there is no shame in taking a pause if needed. If you are able to, develop a strong and trusted support system before you give birth. Any assistance those around can offer will help.
- Only about half of public two-year and four-year institutions offer on-campus childcare. And less than 10% of private institutions have campus childcare centers. If on-campus care is not available at your institution, you can utilize the Child Care Aware online tool to find affordable options near you.
How to Prepare Before You're on Campus
One of the best ways to ease the transition to college is to make sure you feel prepared. If you are concerned about your access to contraceptives or other reproductive care while on campus, there are a number of ways you can ensure you have what's needed before arriving.
Speak with your primary care provider or gynecologist before you make the journey to school about possible long-term contraceptive options like implants or intrauterine devices (IUDs). Depending on the type, these contraceptives can last and prevent pregnancy for three or more years.
Purchasing physical contraceptives, like condoms, can also help you have safer sex. Condoms expire and lose effectiveness after a certain period of time, so be cautious of when they are purchased and used. Condoms have a shelf life of 1-3 years. Emergency contraception like Plan B has a shelf life of about four years.
As a backup option in case your contraceptives fail and you find yourself with an unwanted pregnancy, as of January 2023, individuals can legally obtain the abortion pill mifepristone at certified pharmacies in states where abortion access is legal and protected. CVS and Walgreens have announced that they plan to sell it in all states where they legally can and have immediate plans to get certified. If you have concerns about your ability to obtain mifepristone once at school, be sure to purchase it beforehand.
Lastly, research what types of health centers and clinics are nearest to the school you plan to attend. Visiting a new doctor for the first time can often be nerve-wracking. But familiarizing yourself with their services and location beforehand helps. Some schools are far from other clinics or health centers, making transportation and access difficult. Knowing where you might have to go and developing a plan for how to get there can help ease the stress of finding care when needed.