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At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, on 8Apr08, Feminists for Life president Serrin M. Foster moderated a Pregnancy Resource Forum.[SM] In anticipation of the Forum, the following op-ed by Brenda Kay Zylstra was published in The Daily Illini.

“Pro-life or Pro-choice? Doesn't Matter at Forum”

By: Brenda Kay Zylstra

Thirty-five years ago the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision, effectively legalizing abortion in the United States.

Instead of being the final answer to the abortion question, Roe remains the most disputed and attacked Supreme Court decision of all time. It has become a rallying cry for various political factions and the quintessential political litmus test. The oft-quoted adage of today's politics—that polarization has drastically increased as middle ground has wilted away—can find no better example than the pro-life/pro-choice firestorm surrounding Roe.

Common ground is impossible, unthinkable and not even a consideration.

I suggest it's time we reconsidered.

…The Illini Collegians for Life, a pro-life RSO, of which I am a member, is hosting a Pregnancy Resource Forum (PRF).

The PRF is a concept developed by Feminists for Life of America.

For more than a decade FFLA has helped colleges across the country—Harvard, UC Berkeley, Vanderbilt and dozens of others—to enact this program, designed to ease the burdens on pregnant and parenting college students.

Instead of stoking the fires of Roe, the PRF circumvents what we cannot agree on and focuses on what we must, making our campus a friendly and accessible place for students with children.

The PRF involves three stages. The first is a campus-wide inventory of services and resources available for pregnant and parenting college students.

The second is the forum, which is …open to the public. FFLA President Serrin Foster will moderate a roundtable discussion between campus units concerning these resources.

Finally, after the forum, ICFL will consolidate and make relevant information readily accessible as well as encourage policy changes and check-up on campus units to ensure implementation.

For the past three months we met with campus units—McKinley Health Center, Women's Programs, Emergency Dean and many others—ascertaining what services and resources are already offered and asking what more could be done. Those we contacted agreed these needs should be better met.

We also worked with student groups. The Illinois Student Senate and the Student Trustee gave their full support, as well as the campus chapter of the National Organization for Women.

At first glance, ICFL and NOW seems an odd pairing. NOW has always been at the forefront of pro-choice activism while ICFL's efforts are unabashedly pro-life.

But the beauty of the PRF is that it's an opportunity for both sides to momentarily put aside this polar disagreement and make actual, concrete headway in helping women on this campus.

Each side professes to want what's best for women, children and society, and though we may disagree on what exactly that means, in this instance we don't have to.

If pro-life advocates mean what they say about the value of life then it is imperative upon them to create a society in which mother and child are supported and cared for.

Likewise, those who are pro-choice must work to ensure women have real options, and equal awareness thereof.

A couple weeks ago The Daily Illini ran a story about a girl who dropped out this semester to have a child but plans on returning in the fall. The online comment board evidenced how vitriolic our campus is to this particular choice. One (anonymous, cowardly) poster wrote, "She would have been well-advised to abort the fetus." Others were hardly better, expressing disdain, disrespect and outright hatred.

This hostility, which has sunk deeply into our culture, should be absolutely unacceptable to thoughtful people on either side of the abortion question. This societal fault is what the PRF seeks to address.

And so this is the beginning of true choice.

Not the false choice between having a university degree and a child.

Today we put into place the structures and support necessary so that tomorrow's students with children will be empowered to make free and informed choices.

The abortion debate isn't going away anytime soon. And while there's a time and place for that debate, this forum is not it.

In the meantime, we should embrace what common ground we have, working together for meaningful improvement on our campus, putting people before politics.

The status quo for the past 35 years has been polemics and polarization and little actual change. It's time we question whether the needs of women really are being met.

Brenda is a senior in political science and English.

[The Daily Illini, April 2008]



"Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better than abortion."

[emphases added]