Washington, DC -- The recent approval of the dangerous RU 486 abortion pill has renewed the abortion debate on college campuses, as students and health officials explore the implications of a drug that changes the way abortions take place.
A slight majority of college students favor the abortion drug, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in September, but at the same time they desire more restrictions on abortion.
A recent survey shows that women aged 20-24 have the highest percentage of abortions in America. The Family Planning Perspectives national survey of 10,000 women who had abortions in 1994-1995 revealed almost one-third of American abortions (32.8 percent) were performed on women of this age group, from all education backgrounds.
Like the general populace, students are split on the topic.
Erin Hueston, a senior at Wittenberg University in Ohio, applauded the FDA approval. "It is a less-invasive procedure and women will no longer have to face protesters outside of clinics, risking their lives to have an abortion," the political science major said.
But Jennifer Bradley, a sophomore business major at Georgetown, felt that RU 486 will result in an increase in the number of pregnancies that end in abortions. "The approval was obviously a huge setback for pro-life organizations because people are going to compartmentalize abortion," the 20-year-old Southboro, Mass., resident said.
Two polls illustrate collegiate uneasiness about the issue. A Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and MTV poll of 18- to 24-year-olds taken in July revealed 47 percent of the 603 young adults polled opposed the release of RU-486 in the United States. Similarly, an October poll of Florida voters conducted by the New York Times' Florida newspapers found that 18- to 29-year-olds were most in favor of RU-486. However, this group also ranked first in favoring more pro-life laws on abortion.
Noted pro-life author Frederica Mathewes-Green, the mother of three college-age children, attributed this contradiction to a younger generation that dislikes the idea of abortion, but considers RU-486 to be less graphic and violent than surgical abortions.
"I know that over recent years the percentage of freshmen opposing abortion has grown," Mrs. Mathewes-Green said. However, many students in this group turn pro-choice by graduation, she added.
Most students agreed that college women want the option of a private, nonsurgical abortion. Elisabeth Brown, a Georgetown University junior, said that abortion has become less of a feminist issue for college women. Instead, abortion becomes more of an escape from the "scary" reality of pregnancy.
"A lot of college women are pro-choice because they say, 'If I was in that position, I would want to have a choice,' " the 20-year-old from Albany, N.Y., said. "It's not a liberating thing."
"I have heard that the highest percentage of abortions are performed on college students," said Nathan Hansen, a senior at Luther College in Iowa. "I can understand how this could be because of the enormous pressure to succeed later in life."
Helen Colosimo, a junior at Roanoke College in Virginia, feels college women favor abortioon because of basic economic and class issues. "College students, who see the ability for upward mobility and feel that a pregnancy will ruin the course of their lives, are more likely to have the resources and access to have an abortion," she said.
Other students stress the ethical and moral side of the debate, saying such "prescription abortions" will boost abortion rates. Currently, one out of four pregnancies in the United States ends in abortion.
Tom Weirich, a Georgetown University junior from Florida, N.Y., and a member of Georgetown's student Right to Life Organization, said RU-486 will have a negative effect on the country. "You have to look at the consequences for society in the long run," the 20-year-old said. "I think there will be very huge societal repercussions. RU-486 is a statement. It sanitizes killing."
The RU-486 debate is taking place not only in dorm rooms, but also in university health centers.
A recent survey of 35 universities in the East and Midwest found that the top health center personnel of schools such as Boston University, Yale, the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland all gave an "unequivocal no" to carrying RU-486. Pro-abortion students, once busied with campaigning to bring RU-486 to American shores, are now preparing for a battle to make the abortion drug accessible on their campuses.
The Feminist Majority Foundation encourages its pro-abortion contacts on 288 campuses to demand the drug, said Sarah Boonin, director of the foundation's national campus program.
To prevent a surge in RU-486 usage on campuses, Feminists for Life of America, a Washington pro-life group, is focusing on changing the prevalence of abortion on college campuses by educating students about the "nonviolent" options for pregnant students, FFLA president Serrin Foster said. FFLA has been displaying new posters designed to make college students rethink their abortion position.
"There's got to be a change in climate," Foster said. "We have to stop saying 'I'm so sorry' as our first reaction to women who are pregnant in college. We need to start saying 'Congratulations' and 'How can I help?' "