Pregnant Students’ Rights are More Important than Ever

Last Thursday, conservative lawmakers in the House rushed a vote on the “Pregnant Students’ Rights Act”—legislation that, according to them, will support pregnant and parenting students in school. 

Unfortunately, this bill is just hot air. This legislation does nothing to address the many barriers that pregnant students face while pursuing their degrees. In fact, it’s just a vehicle for anti-abortion rhetoric. This bill further perpetuates shame and stigma for pregnant and parenting students, as well as those who choose to have an abortion.  

While conservatives attempt to deceive us with misnamed legislation, there are many students whose needs are not being met.  

There are rights guaranteed to students of all public and private schools, school districts, colleges, and universities receiving any federal funds (which is most!) under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. While these rights are important, they need to be better enforced and stronger to meet students’ needs.  

Here’s why we need to enforce and strengthen existing Title IX protections for pregnant and parenting students. 

Although Title IX already requires schools to accommodate pregnant students and bars discrimination based on pregnancy or familial status, many schools straight up violate these requirements. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently heard from a student at a community college in Florida. The student was already a parent and had missed a test due to a pregnancy-related condition. The school refused to accommodate her, saying it had a policy of not allowing make-up work. This is a clear violation of Title IX—as the student had tried to tell the school. It took NWLC getting involved for the school to allow the student to take a make-up test, as she was legally entitled to under Title IX.  

Especially in states that are banning abortion and full-spectrum reproductive health care, it’s essential that schools aren’t violating pregnant and parenting students’ rights. It’s not always easy to stand up to your school, but the student said: “As a mother, I felt compelled to address the injustice and potential discrimination my daughter could face. Taking a stand against discrimination was the only choice for me.” 

Current law isn’t enough—we need better protections for pregnant and parenting students.  

The Biden administration proposed new Title IX regulations that would be a strong start to better protecting students. Some of the things these rules would make clear are that: 

  • Schools would be required to give lactating students a clean, non-bathroom space to breastfeed or express breast milk. 
  • Schools would not be able to require students who are pregnant or have a related condition to provide certification from a health care provider that the student is able to participate in a class, program, or extracurricular activity. 
  • There would be new language to prohibit discrimination based on “current, potential, or past pregnancy or related conditions,” and would also clarify that the term “related conditions” includes childbirth, termination of pregnancy, lactation, and “medical conditions” or “recovery” related to any of these conditions. 

NWLC has also led advocacy efforts to request critical supports for pregnant and parenting students, such as: 

  • Nondiscrimination protections at the state and local level  
  • Accessible and affordable child care and increased funding for on-campus child care 
  • Access to early education and pre-kindergarten services 
  • Transportation access 
  • Basic needs security (including food, housing, clothing, etc.) 
  • Flexible school attendance policies 
  • Lactation accommodations 
  • Less stigma and shame around young parenthood 
  • Increased accountability measures for institutions that fail to protect pregnant and parenting students 
  • Federal funding to support campus Title IX offices’ work to prevent and investigate discrimination against pregnant students 
  • Mandatory data collection on students’ parenting statuses 

What don’t we need? A “Pregnant Students’ Rights Act” that contains no meaningful support for students.  

Everyone deserves to learn in a school environment that supports them, regardless of their pregnancy or parental status. Pregnant and parenting students are not pawns for the pro-life agenda. They need robust support to complete their education without bias or harassment, and we will continue to advocate until their needs are met.