Dozens of incoming medical students at the University of Michigan walked out of a white coat ceremony to protest their keynote speaker’s anti-abortion views, as the future of abortion in Wolverine State hangs of a Great Depression-era law prohibiting it.
In a viral video posted by Twitter user PEScorpiio from ceremony to officially welcome the newest class of medical school, a slew of students in white coats jump from their seats and exit Michigan’s Hill Auditorium as Dr. Kristin Collier begins her speech. The protest against the assistant professor of medicine came after a petition with more than 340 signatures circulated calling for another speaker.
According to the petition, Collier shared several anti-abortion posts on social media, including a tweet in which she claimed her brand of feminism involved fighting for her “prenatal sisters.” The director of the University of Michigan Medical School’s Health, Spirituality, and Religion program, Collier also spoke at an April 2019 “pro-life feminism panel” hosted by the Notre Dame Office of Life & Human Dignity.
“Stick to a vision of feminism where you fight for the rights of all women and girls, especially those who are most vulnerable. I cannot but deplore the violence directed against my prenatal sisters in the act of abortion, done in the name of autonomy”, Collier wrote in a May tweetbefore comparing abortion to “oppression”.
As of Monday morning, video of the protest before Collier’s speech – which did not revolve around abortion – had been viewed 9.4 million times and retweeted more than 58,000 times.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the school’s medical program said Collier “was chosen as the keynote speaker for the 2022 White Coat Ceremony based on nominations and votes from UM members. Medical School Gold Humanism Honor Society, which is made up of medical students, house officers and faculty.”
“The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussing controversial issues,” the school spokesperson added. “Its goal will always be to welcome students into the medical profession. Dr. Collier never planned to address a controversial topic as part of his remarks. However, the University of Michigan does not revoke a speaker invitation based on personal beliefs.
Collier did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. However, she did tweet ahead of Sunday’s ceremony that she was “really grateful for the support, emails, texts, prayers and letters that I have received from all over the world regarding the event that will happen today”.
“I feel so empowered by that. and for my team who carried me through it everyday, I love you,” she added.
Although abortion is still legal in Michigan, reproductive rights in the state depend at least in part on a temporary injunction issued by a Court of Claims judge in May that blocked the enforcement of a 1931 state law criminalizing abortion after Roe vs. Wade was overturned last month. The injunction came after Michigan Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit challenging the pre-deer to forbid.
The protest comes just days after Jim Harbaugh, coach of the school’s football team that dominates campus life, spoke at an anti-abortion fundraiser in Plymouth, where he sang “I believe in having the courage to let the unborn child be born.
Officials at the self-proclaimed progressive school in a liberal college town in a swing state have worked to double down on their support for abortion rights.
“The University of Michigan and Michigan Medicine remain committed to providing safe, high-quality reproductive care to patients, for all of their reproductive health needs,” the school added in a statement. “That includes abortion care, which remains legal in Michigan even after the recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion.”
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But hundreds of Michigan medical students thought the school wasn’t taking a strong enough stance on abortion access, signing a petition opposing Collier as keynote speaker. Among the examples of his anti-abortion comments was a June interview the professor had with The pillara religious newspaper, where she is described as “a committed and openly pro-life Christian”.
According to the petition, 100 incoming students, 248 current students, and more than 70 community members have signed to demand another speaker.
“While we support the rights to freedom of speech and religion, an anti-choice speaker as a representative of the University of Michigan undermines the University’s position on abortion and supports the platform no universal and rooted in theology to restrict access to abortion, an essential part of medical care,” the petition states. “This is not simply a disagreement over personal opinion; through our claim , we are mobilizing in solidarity against groups that attempt to suppress human rights and restrict medical care.”
Despite outcry for the university to stand by its previous statements, the school’s dean ultimately denied the request. In a letter to the school community, Dr Marschall Runge explained his decision not to disinvite Collier, stressing “the critical importance of diversity of personal thoughts and ideas, which is fundamental to academic freedom and excellence. “.
Collier also appeared to briefly address the controversy on Sunday, ignoring the exodus of white-coated students, saying, “We have a lot of work to do to make the healing happen.”