Babies and toddlers playing happily on the floor may be an everyday occurrence around the world, but to Serrin Foster, they are proof that Feminists for Life (FFL)—the organization she has led for 23 years—is doing something
Foster first moderated the first-ever FFL-sponsored Pregnancy Resource Forum (PRF) in 1997 at the Washington, D.C.-based Georgetown University. At those forums, faculty, community resource leaders and students, take inventory of local resources for pregnant and/or parenting students and create university-specific solutions for the challenge parents on campus face while pursuing their education.
Before these PRFs, Foster tells Citizen,
student-parents were rare at Georgetown, most likely for lack of resources and support. But as she did in 2016 at another official FFL visit, after years of targeted, campus- and population- specific advocacy from FFL, Foster often watches mothers, fathers and children successfully co-existing on campus.
“Having children play on a floor that is safe and meant just for them on campus—that is a true joy,” Foster says. “Instead of having someone tell their abortion story at the forum, because they were told there was simply no way they could be a mom and a student at the same time, these moms felt like they could bring their kids, because they were all welcome.”
It’s exactly the sort of success story FFL is aiming to bring to campuses around the United States—and one the group is witnessing with increasing frequency, thanks to its strategy of finding and highlighting real-world, tangible help for student-parents.
When Foster first began visiting college campuses in the 1990s, she rarely saw obviously pregnant students or parents with small children. “We realized there was no real ‘choice’ on campus,” she says. “I asked the health centers, ‘What happens when someone gets a positive pregnancy test?’ It was apparent that [the schools] cared, but it was also apparent that they believed the ‘best’ they could do was get her a safe and legal abortion.”
As someone who had watched legalized abortion change the cultural and political landscape in America—Foster was a high school senior in Washington, D.C., when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade—she knew that view was both incorrect and deeply anti-feminist. Women were certainly capable of pursuing an education, working from home or holding down a job without resorting to killing their offspring.
“I’ve always been a feminist,” Foster says. “But after the [1970s], women felt forced to choose between being pro-life and being feminist. I refuse to choose. I think women are capable, but also that every human being has inherent worth. I don’t think there is a conflict [between the two views].”
Unfortunately, many university administrators do not even realize there is a “second view” beyond abortion as the only solution for pregnant students. And marketing, Foster realized, was partly to blame.
Early in her tenure at FFL, for example, Foster visited Loyola University in Chicago. Directly across the street was a Planned Parenthood facility with a large sign: “Planned Parenthood Welcomes Loyola Students Back to School.”
“It was sort of like how Macy’s used to wrap their stores with enormous signs at Christmastime,” she says. “That’s when I began to learn about the fact that Planned Parenthood spends a lot of time and money marketing to two vulnerable populations: the low-income and the college kids.”
Indeed, according to research from Students for Life of America (SFLA), 79 percent of Planned Parenthood facilities are located within five miles of a college campus. The abortion giant take that a step further with more than 275 “Planned Parenthood Generation Action” groups on campuses nationwide. (A separate group, Students For Life of America, counters that by sponsoring more than 1,000 pro-life clubs at high schools, colleges, law and medical schools, as well as associations for young professionals throughout the country).
Planned Parenthood Action’s website prioritizes “health centers [that] provide crucial health services, including abortion care, to all people across the globe.” Furthermore, “To
ensure that young people’s lives are at the center of our movement, Planned Parenthood Generation Action’s key priorities are inclusivity, abortion stigma, trans inclusion, elections, and movement/power building.”
Nowhere on their webpage is there information or assistance for those who want to keep their babies or participate in Planned Parenthood’s “power building” movement as a young parent.
“Planned Parenthood spends their summers, so to speak, ‘stocking their shelves’ and thinking about long-term marketing plans,” Foster says. “But what are we [the pro-life movement] doing?”
A “Herstory” of Pro-Life Feminism
Foster, a former health agency worker, started brainstorming and networking. From that first PRF—the catalyst for an eventual full-time Pregnancy Services Counselor at Georgetown’s student center, as well as an on-campus daycare facility, free home pregnancy testing kits, pregnancy hotline, volunteer babysitting co-op and organized diaper drives—FFL staffers created kits for 650 universities. The kits contained counseling instructions for campus health centers, hotline numbers for nearby pregnancy resource centers, brochures on how to find local resources and more.
Today, the kits have morphed into a new website called Women Deserve Better. On the site (“an actual ‘safe space,’” Foster says), women and their supporters can find help locating student housing, securing affordable childcare, navigating romantic relationships, acing interviews, financing one’s education, obtaining medical care for student moms, knowing one’s rights on campus and more—all while pregnant or parenting on a college campus.
“When we started doing the Pregnancy Resource Forums, we asked everyone, ‘What choice do you have on campus? What are the protocols?’” Foster says. “But no one knew where housing, childcare, child support or the pregnancy resource centers were. Now, everyone is getting very creative. We’ve got students coming up with local directories for help on pro-life student (groups on) campus websites, all these layers of support.”
Students at St. Louis University, for example, started a grant program for student-parents after hearing an FFL speaker in 2007. With FFL’s encouragement, Belmont Abbey College built a close-to-campus maternity home called MiraVia for its pregnant and/or parenting students starting in 2003. Pepperdine University administrators, meanwhile, started a task force and built family housing after a 2007 PRF, while women with positive pregnancy tests were given written information about the help available to them on campus.
What’s even more encouraging, Foster says, is that she is now speaking to students whose parents may have been positively affected by a PRF. “It’s been over 20 years since we did the first one, and there are people in college now who were born when we supported their parents on campus when [they] could have had an abortion. We’re looking at this generationally.”
Foster points out that Planned Parenthood thinks “generationally,” too.
“They’re convincing women that ‘you’re having this abortion for your future children,’” she says. “They know a lot of women are poor, but do they help them solve their problems stemming from poverty? No, absolutely not. Planned Parenthood just leaves them in despair [after the abortion] but first, ‘Can I please have your credit card?’”
Such actions are an absolute “betrayal of feminism,” Foster says, pointing back to the staunchly pro-life views of nearly all of America’s feminist foremothers. Revered names like Alice Paul (author of the original Equal Rights Amendment), Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jane Addams, Louisa May Alcott, Pearl S. Buck and Mary Wollstonecraft all believed that abortion was a grave injustice against women and sought to address the underlying social ills that drove mothers to kill their children.
On that note—a $10 note, to be exact—Foster is excited about the new $10 bill, which will celebrate the history of the women’s suffrage movement with images of abolitionists and pro-life feminists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul and others.
“I’m so excited that [FFL] will have another opportunity to explain that every time you look at this bill, these women were pro-woman and pro-life,” she says.
Thanks to its proven track record of pro-woman, pro-life assistance, PRFs often inspire individual students to create specific change at their universities. Kara Sorenson, 22, watched her older sisters struggle to complete their educations while parenting. One had to drive three hours each day for classes because the most flexible and affordable childcare option was at home; both worked part-time jobs while raising babies and attending school full-time.
“I saw firsthand all the factors that have to be present in order for an individual to go to school full-time and raise a child,” Sorenson tells Citizen. “A student mother or father shouldn’t have to choose between raising a child or completing their education. Education is something thing that can lift a person out of poverty.”
So when Sorenson, a recent graduate of Clarion University in Pennsylvania, heard Foster speak on pro-life feminism in 2014, something clicked. “Every person deserves the opportunity to graduate from college with a degree, regardless of their family status,” Sorenson says. “And poverty is one of the main reasons why a woman chooses abortion.”
When Sorenson asked about resources for pregnant and/or parenting students at Clarion, she was told most of those programs had been axed. So she hosted another PRF—and as a result, the school opened a lactation room in the student complex, complete with comfortable chairs, a sink and a television. Also, after Foster moderated a PRF there in 2016, Clarion’s Pregnancy and Parenting Resource Initiative gained new members after passing out tie-dyed T-shirts that read “I Support Pregnant and Parenting Students.”
“Aside from the physical components that came [from] the forum, I think more importantly we created an atmosphere on campus between the faculty and staff that shows we truly are a place that cares about parenting students,” Sorenson says.
To that end, it’s critical for life advocates to tangibly show care for the parents—not only the baby, Sorenson asserts.
“College students need to feel like they are being talked to directly talked or else they aren’t going to respond well,” she says. “Typical students want to know truth, and if the pro-life generation can’t stand up as a unified body and tell women how strong they are and how valuable they are and how they deserve to be provided for as a student parent, then they will continue to believe the lie that abortion is ‘no big deal.’ ”
The Empowering Choice
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center report, around 61 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds believe abortion “should be legal in all or most cases.” According to the Institute for Women’s Policy, about 26 percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. were parents of dependent children in 2011. That means FFL is reaching many students who hold pro-
abortion views—and Foster thinks that’s fantastic.
“We welcome questions from pro-choice students,” she says. “Like, ‘Do I have a choice on this campus to have a child, stay in school and graduate?’ Overwhelmingly, the administrators and students have embraced this. Maybe they feared us at first, but I reassure them that I’m not there to attack; I’m there to take inventory and help them create a blueprint for progress.”
Because ultimately, “[FFL’s] goal is to make sure [students] don’t even think about abortion—that they would know they have everything they need from a loving community across the nation.”
For Sorenson, whose sisters graduated thanks to “a huge support system for their success,” the help that FFL stimulates and provides is simply the manifestation of a true pro-life and empowering feminist ethic.
“Choosing life is always an empowering choice,” she explains. “Women deserve better than abortion; they deserve better than to be told that it’s ‘your’ problem and no one else’s. A woman in a vulnerable situation is going to see abortion as an easy way out of a difficult problem.
“But I believe there will come a day when a young woman isn’t scared from an unexpected pregnancy, because she will have been engrossed with an outpouring of positive and encouraging rhetoric from her community, workplace, and college.”
Foster and FFL will be ready and waiting to give it to them—and to show others how to do the same.
For More Information:To learn more about Feminists for Life,visit feministsforlife.org. More information on its project Women Deserve Better can be found at womendeservebetter.com. Students for Life of America’s web page is studentsforlife.org.
Originally published in the September 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.