Choosing not to have a child while at college makes plenty of sense. Not only does a rigorous academic regimen leave little time for the consuming responsibility of raising a child, but sleep deprivation and unhealthy food and drinking habits—virtual cornerstones of college culture—aren’t well-suited for mothers. Besides, for many college women—who first seek a diploma, then a career, then a husband and finally a family—a child before graduation utterly ruins the master plan.
But whether by fluke or foolishness—the condom breaks or none is worn at all—unprotected sex happens. And of course, Harvard is no exception, where an estimated 50 percent of students have had or will have had sex come cap and gown day.
Fortunately for sexually active college women, another means of preventing unwanted pregnancies may soon hit the pharmacy shelves. Just last month, advisors of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that the “morning-after” pill—currently only available though prescription—be available over-the-counter. Taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, the pill drastically reduces the chance of pregnancy and thus gives sexually active women more choices in preventing unwanted pregnancies.
The culture of the morning-after pill has already influenced many college campuses. After having unprotected sex, many female undergraduates heed the wisdom of their friends: Go to the hospital and get a prescription for the morning-after pill. With a move to make the pill over-the-counter, women will simply be able to do so with much less restrictive oversight. As expected, abortion rights advocates and college women alike have lauded the recommendation. Says Anne M. Morris ’04, “I am a very strong supporter of putting measures in place so that women can feel like they are able to assert control over their reproductive choices with as few barriers as possible.” But, has another option been overlooked?
Actions to immediately prevent pregnancy, though reasonably justified by the vast disadvantages faced by undergraduate child bearers and rearers, automatically ignore any benefit a woman may have by having a child during her undergraduate career. Consider Gina Ocon ’98-’00, whose infamous custody battle with her child’s father made national headlines. Despite the burdens she faced raising a child while in college (taking time off, receiving less than stellar grades, segregating herself off-campus), Ocon remained adamant that her decision benefited her life tremendously. “It takes a lot of pettiness out of being a Harvard student,” she told one newspaper. “I’ve got a smiling face to wake up to and a smiling face to put to bed.” And for those women not ready to raise a child, there are countless anxious families waiting for a child to adopt—according to the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth there are an estimated 3.3 adoption seekers for every actual adoption.
It is not to say that these choices are for everyone; clearly, they’re not. But as we strive to secure as many options as possible for pregnant women—which includes providing easier access to the morning-after pill—failing to even consider such choices leaves potential mothers out of a very worthy opportunity, no matter how unplanned.
Jasmine J. Mahmoud is an associate editorial chair.