Pro-life activists are warning that pregnant college student-athletes are not being fully informed about their rights under Title IX law and, in some cases, even being encouraged to get abortions by advisers within their institutions.
Although federal Title IX law states that students can't be discriminated against in the event of pregnancy and childbirth, many female student-athletes wrongly believe they must abort their unborn children so that they don't lose the scholarship they have worked so hard for.
The intercampus pro-life organization Students for Life and its Pregnant on Campus initiative are trying to raise awareness to show pregnant students who are athletes afraid for their future that they don't have to choose between keeping their babies and continuing their collegiate career.
"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," Pregnant on Campus director Beth Rahal told The College Fix in an email.
According to Rahal, the Pregnant on Campus initiative dealt with at least three Title IX coordinators at colleges last fall who "actively encouraged the pregnant students to leave school — one of whom was the Title IX Coordinator for a law school."
Students for Life has shared the testimony of a few student-athletes who felt as though they had to abort.
According to the organization, one Clemson University student-athlete was instructed by her academic advisor after she found out she was pregnant to examine all her options because keeping the baby would jeopardize her scholarship.
"I talked with my academic advisor. She was just like, 'You know that's going to be hard?' And I was like, 'Yeah.' And she was just like, 'You know, everything that you got ... gone. Just think about your options," the student-athlete was quoted as recalling.
The Clemson student-athlete added that the advisor told her that her "coach isn't going to give you back your scholarship just like that."
"'If she finds out, and if you decide to keep [the baby], that's gone,'" the advisor was quoted as telling the student.
Cassandra Harding, a triple jumper at the University of Memphis who became pregnant, told Students for Life that she also feared the loss of her scholarship.
"I just was like, 'I do not want to lose my scholarship. I don't want to go back home and work at McDonald's or work at Jack in the Box or something,'" she said. "I need my education. I need this college degree to have a better life.'"
Title IX law protects pregnant college students and parents so that they can't lose their scholarship simply because they decide to carry their babies to term.
"A pregnant student-athlete can continue to participate in her sport for as long as she and her doctor feel comfortable and safe," Students for Life informs on its webpage. "The [National Collegiate Athletic Association] also allows a special red shirt season for athletes for pregnancy."
NCAA rules allow for member schools to approve a one-year extension of athletic eligibility for a student-athlete who becomes pregnant. A "red shirt season" allows the the player to remain on the team but doesn't require them to compete for medical reasons.
According to the NCAA, Title IX not only guarantees protection for pregnant and parenting students but also ensures that pregnant student-athletes "be offered reinstatement to the same position after pregnancy as they held before the onset of pregnancy."
Olympic runner Sanya Richards-Ross, who aborted her child two weeks before flying to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, discussed the trend in an interview with Sports Illustrated in June 2017.
"It is an issue that is not really talked about, especially in sports. A lot of young women have experienced this," Richards-Ross said. "Like, I literally don't know another female track-and-field athlete who hasn't had an abortion. That's sad."
Rahal told The College Fix that for most student-athletes, they only time they are presented with their Title IX rights is during a "five to 15 minute review" conducted by an athletics staff member at the start of the season.
"As a former student-athlete, I remember my peers not really listening to the information and simply signing [the form] so that we could move on to training," Rahal said, adding that coaches should "specifically inform their student-athletes of the protections and accommodations available for pregnant athletes."