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Colleges encourage athletes to abort by not telling them Title IX protects them, say pro-life activists

Even Title IX coordinators are getting it wrong

Title IX training is all over universities, with one glaring exception: the women’s locker room.

Pro-life groups are getting the word out on campus and at conferences that athletes who are pregnant or may become pregnant are fully protected by Title IX, activists told The College Fix.

“We have a huge problem with schools not properly informing professors, staff, etc. of Title IX protections as well as Title IX Coordinators not being fully trained in this aspect of their job,” Beth Rahal, director of Students for Life of America’s Pregnant on Campus initiative, wrote in an email.

The initiative had dealt with “at least” three Title IX coordinators last fall who “actively encouraged the pregnant students to leave school – one of whom was the Title IX Coordinator for a law school,” she said.

The California regional coordinator for SFLA, Camille Rodriguez, highlighted the discriminatory treatment faced by pregnant athletes at an SFLA conference in January.

Much of the problem is plain ignorance, Rodriguez told The Fix in an email: Female athletes think they’ll get kicked off the team or lose scholarships if they get pregnant, and athletic staff don’t tell them otherwise.

MORE: College that kicked pregnant student out of dorm forced to reverse

Five- to 15-minute review, then sign a form

The pressure to abort felt by female athletes was raised last summer by the professional runner Sanya Richards-Ross, when she disclosed she had an abortion the day before she flew to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Rahal wrote a blog post for SFLA then on the widespread “miseducation” among student-athletes, illustrated by Richards-Ross’s claim that “I literally don’t know another female track athlete who hasn’t had an abortion.”

Title IX clearly applies to pregnant athletes: It says no one “on the basis of sex” may be “excluded from participation in” education programs or activities, which include athletics.

The NCAA has also told members that athletes who give birth “must be offered reinstatement to the same position” they held before pregnancy, and they shouldn’t lose their financial aid during pregnancy as long as they do not “voluntarily withdraw” from the team.

Its guide Pregnant and Parenting Student-Athletes says “student-athletes who are pregnant should be treated like any other student-athlete with a temporary disability.”

Yet this is an area where many colleges fail to “properly train” their Title IX coordinators on the rights of pregnant athletes, Rahal wrote in an email.

“We’ve found that pregnant athletes are often highly pressured and misinformed about their rights, and we’ve made this a special mission to reach out to these student-athletes.”

Pregnant on Campus uses a “combination of outreach and networking” and offers “Title IX trainings to student leaders, Resident Advisors, and other interested students and administration,” Rahal said.

She challenges “student leaders to distribute Title IX handouts to all of their professors, as well as to key departments and persons on campus” including Title IX, residential and athletics staff. They include a “True or False” activity.

MORE: Pregnant students finally have a real choice

Pregnancy is a “major factor” in female students quitting college and delaying graduation, partly because schools don’t make Title IX “a more prominent part of pregnancy communications,” Rahal said. They should train staff, send memos and make resources available online.

Presentations about Title IX rights often come in the form of “a 5-15 minute review” by an athletic staff member “at the beginning of the athletic season, after which they sign a form saying that they understand what’s been communicated,” Rahal said.

“As a former student-athlete, I remember my peers not really listening to the information and simply signing so that we could move on to training,” she said. It should be coaches who “specifically inform their student-athletes of the protections and accommodations available for pregnant athletes.”

Otherwise athletes will think their pregnancies are “the end of a sports career,” because they often “falsely assume that their athletic career is in jeopardy because of misinformation and rumors.”

“Our organization is constantly dealing with issues of students being pressured to drop out… due to misinformation losing scholarships, and the like,” Rahal said.

She did not respond to follow-up requests to provide the names of the colleges where Title IX coordinators allegedly told pregnant athletes to leave school, or to specify who is misinforming athletes if they are receiving presentations by athletic staff.

MORE: Christian university promotes abortion to students


Afraid of losing their scholarships

Rodriguez, the SFLA coordinator who gave an athletics presentation in January, told The Fix her job is to ensure pregnant athletes are “well versed in their rights.”

Those include the right to keep their leadership positions, such as captain, and apply for “red-shirt” seasons that protect their place on the team while giving them a medically excused leave of absence.

She seeks out meetings with Title IX officers and and student groups, with successes that include “the installation of diaper changing stations on campus along with scholarships for pregnant or parenting students,” Rodriguez said.

In a typical campus visit Rodriguez works with Students for Life members, who may have already met with Title IX officers and administrators on pregnancy support. She leads discussions on the “avenues of life-affirming support of a pregnant student, ways to provide tangible and emotional resources (i.e. baby showers, student scholarships, etc.).”

Rodriguez had a slightly different take than Rahal on what female athletes are learning.

“Through discussions with various student athletes, we have found that pregnancy is rarely discussed between coaches and athletes,” she told The Fix. “Title IX trainings with the students are mandatory, yet pregnancy rights are not discussed in detail.”

MORE: University sued for requiring ‘trigger warning’ on abortion memorial

From this lack of discussion, “most student athletes have expressed fears of losing scholarship” in conversations with SFLA, “although their status on the team should be protected,” Rodriguez said:

An athlete from a University in Colorado informed us of a young woman who had an abortion only to find out afterwards she would not have been kicked off the team. This young woman expressed a deep regret, wishing she had known the abortion was not necessary to achieve her goals.

Universities should “dive deeper into the discussion” if they want to give pregnant athletes real choices, she said: “No student athlete should have to look back wishing they were more informed.”

Rodriguez cited a 2016 list compiled by SFLA of the top dozen public colleges for pregnant and parenting students, including the University of Washington, University of California-San Diego and University of Utah.

The efforts for pregnant and parenting athletes are part of SFLA’s broader work to bring “awareness” to the impacts of abortion, including physical and emotional traumas.

“Education is a must and being unafraid to discuss the issue is the first step towards awareness,” Rodriguez said.

MORE: The top 12 public colleges for pregnant students, parents

IMAGE: Ben Parker Photography/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Grace Curtis -- Converse College