By Alec Brown
On May 4, leaders at the University of Minnesota put an abortion fellowship program on hold for at least a year. An unidentified faculty member approved the "Reproductive Rights Advocacy Fellowship," a one year program sponsored by the Reproductive Health Access Project and instructed by Planned Parenthood.
The program was designed to train fellows to become trainers themselves in abortion practices and advocacy. Participants in the one-year fellowship would advance the abortion training for medical and nursing students. Once pro-life advocacy groups caught wind of the open position, they made sure they were heard.
The trouble for the school began with an article from Campus Reform, a conservative college news site. The article raised concerns from students and pro-life groups about the university advancing abortion practices. According to Campus Reform, students came forward, stating the fellowship is “unthinkable” and “disgusting.”
These concerns were then presented to lawmakers by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). The noise made by Campus Reform, University students, and MCCL eventually made its way to the ears of University leaders, including the President and the Dean of the medical school. This is when the decision was made to put the fellowship on hold for a year to “examine the value of this training in the context of our mission along with the values of the community.”
The hiatus seems to be a way for University of Minnesota leaders to gauge the climate around abortion and act accordingly, or to bide time until the political fallout could simmer down and become more manageable.
Interestingly, there were some political consequences to the college’s handling of this program. The school recently put in a request for $10 million to freeze tuition and there happened to be a vacancy on the Board of Regents. The requested funds were not advanced and the Board of Regents opening was filled by Randy Simonson, a pro-life conservative. Although the fellowship issue was never publicly acknowledged to be the reason, it is reasonable to assume it played a role. House higher-ed Chair, Bud Nornes, mentioned Simonson’s “values of being conservative and pro-life” but stressed it had more to do with his strong resumé.
The news is hopeful, but pro-lifers aren’t out of the woods quite yet. The University is going to revisit the fellowship eventually and make a decision regarding its implementation. Students for Life at UMN-Twin Cities and Bulldog Students for life will be facing tough opposition from the Pro-Choice Coalition and Reproductive Health Access Project; as well as Planned Parenthood, undoubtedly.