After more than a year of inquiry, Student Wellness at the University of Chicago has updated its previously pro-choice-only Sexual Health webpage, now promoting both pro-life and pro-choice pregnancy options.
Last year, then fourth-year Christina Pirrotta first reached out to Student Wellness’ assistant director of student engagement within health promotion, Emily Schulze, about adding pregnancy resources for university members. Pirrotta offered local pregnancy resources and information about abortion pill reversal for students to access through the Sexual Health webpage. According to Pirrotta, “Emily Schulze said that they couldn’t include abortion pill reversal because it wasn’t approved by the FDA, and that local pregnancy resource centers didn’t include all the options for women, while something like Planned Parenthood did.”
In November 2022, I reached out to Student Wellness, unsatisfied with the original reasoning that halted Pirrotta’s conversation. After numerous email exchanges with Elizabeth Webb, the assistant director of well-being initiatives, she updated the page to its current, more pro-life-inclusive state.
Unfortunately, the resources I originally proposed to include on the website, Standing With You and the American Pregnancy Association, while considered, were deemed ill-fitting for the website, as Student Wellness would prefer pregnant students talk internally with physicians and counselors in the university’s health system about their decisions to continue a pregnancy. In email exchanges with Webb, which she wishes to keep private, these concerns were expressed. I was particularly disappointed with this conclusion since Standing With You is designed specifically for college students facing this difficult situation. It provides a variety of free resources that Planned Parenthood, as linked on the webpage, does not.
As Planned Parenthood’s annual report makes clear, it disproportionately serves as an abortion provider. According to the 2020-2021 annual report, it provided 383,460 abortions while only providing a mere 8,775 prenatal services and 1,940 adoption referrals. That is a 43-to-one ratio of abortions to prenatal services and a 198-to-one ratio of abortions to adoption referrals.
In one of my email exchanges, I explained that “[t]he American Pregnancy Association promotes adoption alternatives that other resources [listed on your website] do not and provides comprehensive information about food and housing assistance, child support laws, healthcare, and emotional support.” Unsurprisingly, this plea fell on deaf ears. Webb contacted me a month later with the above reasoning.
I responded with curiosity as to “why there are so many abortion resources [outside of the university system] linked at all if students are to be encouraged to talk to a UChicago physician first.” I continued, “I would like to understand the reasoning for including resources that overwhelmingly support the abortion option and [a lack of] resources to balance this bias. Especially, if the goal is to support students regardless of their decision. As the site currently stands, it appears students vulnerable to the confusion and overwhelming experience an unplanned pregnancy may induce, may feel pressured by the site’s suggestive resource options.” These concerns went unanswered until I had an in-person conversation with Webb and other Student Wellness representatives, where I stated these concerns once more.
Furthermore, up until the recent change, financial incentives for only the abortion option were promoted on the webpage: “There are two [abortion] methods: 1) take a pill prescribed by a doctor, or 2) undergo a medical procedure performed by a doctor. Both are available around Chicago, including Planned Parenthood clinics or the UChicago Medicine’s Ryan Center, where abortion services are covered under U-SHIP” (emphasis mine). University Student Health Insurance Plan (U-SHIP) is the university-provided insurance that students may opt into. For low-income students, this coverage is free. The webpage made clear that abortion services were easily accessible and financially favorable to receive, while failing to mention the same is true for pregnancy services.
I looked into the 2022-2023 Coverage Benefits, and I reached out to Celia Bergman, the program manager listed under student insurance staff. She confirmed that “the 2022 Certificate of Coverage for our U-SHIP plan indicates benefits for pregnancy, newborn care, infertility treatment, and termination of pregnancy.” The Sexual Health webpage neglected to inform pregnant students of prenatal options and pregnancy-/birth-related coverage through the university insurance. The information provided disproportionately encouraged abortion for pregnant students via an abundance of information, resources, and clear fiscal means. Thankfully, this bias has been lessened.
Now, the UChicago Student Wellness Sexual Health webpage clearly outlines options for pregnant university members: “One option is to carry the pregnancy to term” and “Another option is to get an abortion to end a pregnancy.” It has counseling resources available, links to an All-Options Talkline (which is outside of the university’s health system, despite Student Wellness’ purported restrictions on such resources), U-SHIP benefits, and parenting resources. There is a lack of information about the abortion pill reversal, but the original reasoning that it is not FDA-approved still holds true. In the event of the pending FDA suspension of mifepristone, one of two drugs needed for chemical abortion, I expect Student Wellness to remove their chemical abortion suggestion for the same reason.
I appreciate the willingness of Student Wellness to mitigate its bias towards abortion options for students and provide more balanced resources to inform student choice.
Kenzi Bustamante is a third-year in the College studying Biology and Public Policy. Her Christian faith encourages her to balance truth and grace in everything she does. She grew up in rural Missouri and has enjoyed broadening her cultural knowledge through language and study-abroad programs at the University of Chicago.