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A woman speaks in support of abortion rights

An activist speaks outside the Supreme Court in protest of abortion bans on September 2, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Michigan Students Walk Out of Ceremony Over Keynote Speaker's Pro-Forced Birth Views

"Keep in mind that the state of abortion rights in Michigan is very much on the line. Being quiet right now is a political choice."

Julia Conley

Pro-abortion rights advocates on social media Monday spoke out in defense of incoming medical students at University of Michigan who walked out of a ceremony to protest the keynote speaker's pro-forced birth views, pushing back against claims that the students behaved "unprofessionally."

Noting that Michigan has a decades-old state law criminalizing abortion care—which for now is blocked by a temporary injunction—Dr. Karen Gibbins said that accusations of unprofessionalism are coming from "the same people who help anti-abortion people get and maintain positions of power."

The students walked out of their white coat ceremony—an official welcoming of the incoming class of medical students—as keynote speaker Dr. Kristin Collier began her address.

Collier has shared her anti-choice views on social media and spoke on a so-called "pro-life feminism" panel in April 2019 at University of Notre Dame.

"We are standing up in solidarity against groups who are trying to take away human rights and restrict medical care."

"I can't not lament the violence directed at my prenatal sisters in the act of abortion, done in the name of autonomy," Collier said on Twitter in May, weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended abortion rights for millions of Americans.

Current and incoming students at the University of Michigan Medical School gathered more than 340 signatures on a petition calling on the school to select another speaker, arguing that Collier's support for keeping specific forms of medical care out of reach for patients is "antithetical to the tenets of reproductive justice."

"While we support the rights of 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 non-universal, theology-rooted platform to restrict abortion access, an essential part of medical care," reads the petition. "This is not simply a disagreement on personal opinion; through our demand we are standing up in solidarity against groups who are trying to take away human rights and restrict medical care."

Planned Parenthood of Michigan filed a lawsuit in April in the state Court of Claims, challenging a 1931 ban on abortion care. A preliminary injunction was granted in May and the case against the law is proceeding.

"Keep in mind that the state of abortion rights in Michigan is very much on the line," said Gibbins. "Being quiet right now is a political choice."

Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at government watchdog Public Citizen, added that the support of anti-choice laws by medical providers is "unprofessional," not the students' walkout.

"You know what's 'unprofessional'? Preventing a doctor from doing what's best for the health of the patient," said Narang. "And forcing a doctor to force a patient to do something against their will."

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