LifeChoice misses the bigger picture

Ellen O’Brien looks at the choices facing student parents.

Over the winter break, the infamous LifeChoice society held a conference in Sydney which attracted a pro-choice picket outside its doors. This prompted LifeChoice to publish a post on their website accusing pro-choicers of focussing on the wrong thing: instead, they should be spending their time trying to eliminate the reasons that people choose to have an abortion, including sub-standard support for parents at university.

There is no doubt that the support the University provides impacts a parent’s decision to have a child and study at the same time. The University offers parent facilities around the Darlington/Camperdown campus, including the parents’ room on Level 3 of Fisher Library, where parents can comfortably breastfeed their child.

But are these services actually of use to parents on campus? Bridget Walker McGill, the mother of two-and-a-half-year-old Ella and former Arts/Nursing student, believes that the university could improve the assistance it provides to parents. While there are four childcare centres on main campus, with an additional centre on the Cumberland campus at Lidcombe, Bridget found that the booking system for the centres was illogical. “You had to book in at the start of the year and you had to book specific days…this is before our uni timetable came out,” she says. “As a part-time student, I had no idea which days I required care for.”

While the price of childcare services provided by the University is slightly less than average for the area, the lack of flexibility or occasional care services forced Bridget to consider finding alternative childcare arrangements off campus. This meant that she rarely brought her daughter along to campus (especially as children are not allowed in lecture or tutorial rooms except in “unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances”), rendering the various parents’ facilities on campus utterly useless.

However, these facilities are being used by some parents. The Child Care Information Office claims it has between 70 and 100 direct enquiries a year, coupled with approximately 15 000 hits on their website, which contains details of childcare and other available services. The Office also provides clients with information about childcare centres closer to other campuses and links to occasional care providers.

Parenting obviously involves a level of sacrifice. For Bridget, that meant leaving university behind after falling pregnant with her second child. But the decision wasn’t easy. “I definitely felt that it was an ultimatum decision – one or the other, and obviously I’ve chosen to have children over a tertiary education, despite wanting both.” The University’s lack of flexibility when it comes to parenting arrangements contributed to, at the very least, delaying Bridget’s pursuit of a university degree.

For other parents, their choice may fall on the other side of the line. And while improved access to childcare should be prioritised, this does not necessitate making abortion inaccessible to those who decide to choose study over having children. Given the current state of child services in Australia, and the budget cuts faced by the University, it does not seem like things will be made easier for parents anytime soon. Tutors and lecturers seem disinclined to be more flexible when dealing in parents in fear of favouring or advantaging one student over the other. In that case, it is essential that a person wanting to pursue their studies, rather than an unplanned pregnancy, should not be denied from having that choice, or from exercising it in the safest way possible.