INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. The NCAA will review its policy on pregnant athletes following a published report suggesting some women have been forced to choose between losing their college scholarships or having an abortion.
The issue, first reported by ESPN, was to have been discussed in early July when the Association's Committee on Women Athletes held its annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C.
According to ESPN, decisions regarding pregnant athletes are made at the university level, although the NCAA does provide an extended time frame for students to complete eligibility. ESPN discovered, however, that students are often not told of the option. In its report, the sports network said that an unnamed student at Clemson had an abortion to maintain her scholarship, while a student at the University of Memphis decided to forfeit her scholarship to have the baby.
"The discussion, concern and challenges of assisting student-athletes during pregnancy is not a new campus issue," said Joni Comstock, senior vice president for championships. "The NCAA has had a policy as it relates to a six-year window for these women to complete eligibility. I appreciate the leadership of CWA chair Janet Kittell to help more carefully review additional guidance the NCAA might consider in the future."
The review was ordered by NCAA President Myles Brand, who is requesting the committee determine if additional guidance for member schools, or a rule change, is needed when considering the well being of student-athletes who are pregnant.
"We want to act judiciously here," Kittell said. "I don't think it calls for emergency legislation, but I think it calls for a thorough discussion and thoughtful response."
In addition to the concern about abortion, some experts cite what they call a lack of resources for pregnant students. Some of that void could be filled, however, by Care Net, a non-profit network of more than 1,000 pregnancy centers across North America. The centers provide an assortment of resources designed to support pregnant women.
"We're encouraged the NCAA recognizes that guidelines for pregnant students need to change," Kristin Hansen, Care Net's vice president of Communications. "This critical issue deserves urgent attention. No student athlete should ever be forced to choose between abortion and losing a scholarship."
Services added to campuses
To help with the situation, Care Net has announced that, beginning this fall, it will launch the Campus Outreach and Pregnancy Support Initiative, a program to help local pregnancy centers meet the needs of pregnant students. The program will raise awareness of the need to support students desiring to carry their pregnancy to term and to continue their education. Many pregnancy centers are relocating and opening satellite locations near college campuses to ensure access to key services.
"You hear the word choice thrown around on college campuses all the time, but too often pregnant students don't have any other choice than the one that their administrators or peers think they should choose," said Molly Ford, director of Campus Outreach and Development for Care Net. "Students that want to carry their pregnancy to term often face the loss of scholarships, housing, relationships, friendships, parental assistance, and the support of their teachers and administrators. They are basically forced to choose between their child and their education.
"This is a reason why you rarely see pregnant students on a college campus and why the abortion rate is so high among women in their early 20s. "We hope that the NCAA's decision will be part of a growing trend among organizations and institutions to determine how they can better support pregnant students."
Care Net pregnancy centers offer free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, peer counseling services, post- abortion support and other practical, emotional and spiritual help to empower women and men facing pregnancy-related concerns. For more information, see www.care-net.org.
Wire reports were used in this article