Medical students shunned a doctor because of her abortion views. Is this what America has become?
The protesting University of Michigan students didn’t care what the doctor actually said – they were making a point about disagreeing with her beliefs.
That is ironic after what happened to the University of Michigan Medical School assistant professor and primary care doctor last weekend.
After being chosen for the honor of speaking to the medical school’s annual white coat ceremony for incoming students, Collier was not granted the respect she deserved by a large number of students who walked out Sunday as she gave her keynote address.
The aspiring doctors decided shunning was called for because Collier holds personal religious views and is anti-abortion. In addition to her other roles, she is the director of the medical school’s program on health, spirituality and religion.
Welcoming speech did not address abortion
Yet, Collier did not address abortion in her speech. Instead, she gave a warm welcome to the students and offered sound advice about how to approach the work of caring for others.
The protesting students didn’t care what she actually said – they were making a point about disagreeing with her beliefs. According to one individual who attended the ceremony, about 40% of the audience participated in the walkout.
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Collier did not respond to an interview request, but I did get a generic statement from the medical school spokeswoman: “The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussion of controversial issues. Its focus will always be on welcoming students into the profession of medicine. Dr. Collier never planned to address a divisive topic as part of her remarks.”
No nuance on abortion
This kind of intolerance for other views on abortion is on full display in my state of Michigan, not just in the academic realm but in the political one as well, with both sides pushing the debate to extremes.
The lack of middle ground is out of line with polls that show the majority of Americans want compromise. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has sent decisions about abortion laws back to the states, Michigan is far from alone in grappling with these issues.
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After Roe v. Wade was overturned last month, Michigan's long dormant 1931 abortion ban became viable again. It’s currently blocked by a court order, but the only exception it allows is for the life of the mother.
A recent poll among state GOP primary voters highlights that nearly 70% support an option for an abortion in cases of rape or incest, and even more support it when pregnant minors are involved.
This has not stopped most of the Republican gubernatorial candidates from espousing little to no nuance in regard to abortion (Michigan’s primary is next Tuesday). Only one of the five says there should be exceptions for rape or incest. One of the candidates says there should be no exemptions, period.
On the other end of the spectrum are Democrats and abortion-rights organizations. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who doesn’t face a primary opponent, is constantly on social media reminding voters that she’ll never stop fighting for abortion access. Her laser focus on abortion recently led her to veto $20 million in the new state budget that would have gone toward helping women and infants, including pregnancy resource centers. In essence, she’s limiting choices for women.
A constitutional expansion of abortion
Most worrisome is a ballot initiative, backed by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, that seeks to enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution. The effort recently garnered a record number of signatures, and it’s likely to appear on the November ballot.
If this becomes cemented in the constitution, its vague language would allow abortion until “fetal viability,” after which some regulation would be permitted. Yet, no abortion could be prohibited if it’s deemed necessary "to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual."
This seems out of step with even the majority of Democrats, who think the stage of pregnancy matters in determining abortion’s legality.
But voters who could see this Reproductive Freedom for All proposal on the ballot – and don’t know all the details behind it – could think it sounds better than the other option, the archaic 1931 law.
Those who are anti-abortion should tread carefully in this moment. If they show no ability to compromise, then the alternative might be even more abortion access than there was under Roe. That’s hardly what they want.
Unlike the closed-minded Michigan medical students (whose right to express themselves Collier has defended), we should be willing to listen to each other and avoid racing to such extremes.
Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques