University of Minnesota caves to pressure on abortion rights fellowship

The fellowship would have allowed a doctor to train at Planned Parenthood to perform reproductive health services and advocate for abortion rights.

The fellowship would have allowed a doctor to train at Planned Parenthood to perform reproductive health services and advocate for abortion rights. Star Tribune

Until recently, the University of Minnesota was advertising a position for interested doctors: come learn about reproductive health with Planned Parenthood.

The Reproductive Rights Advocacy Fellowship, a one-year program for doctors, would have allowed the U to hire a doctor to train at Planned Parenthood’s St. Paul facility. They would teach medical and nursing students how to perform stuff like IUD insertions, first trimester sonographies, endometrial biopsies, and abortions.

The course also included training in how to advocate for reproductive rights. It was the only fellowship of its kind in the Midwest.

But last week, the U removed the ad and stopped offering the fellowship. Jakub Tolar, the dean of the Medical School, issued a short statement with little explanation as to why:

"We have pulled the position from the website and are no longer hiring for this role. We will examine the value of this training in the context of our mission along with the values of the community."

Tolar declined to respond further.

Matt Lamb, a spokesperson for Students For Life, the nation’s largest student pro-life organization, says the U was responding to pressure from anti-abortion groups. “It kind of goes against what medical training should be about,” he says. “Commiting abortions,” as he calls it, is against medicine's mandate to help people make healthy choices.

Lamb doesn’t even see abortion as a part of “real” medical care, “like orthopedics or cardiology.” And since taxpayers and tuition both fund the U, he doesn’t think it’s OK to offer abortionist training.

“It creates a culture of death on college campuses.”

Campus Reform, a conservative website focused on higher education, published an article with the headline “Students blast UMN’s ‘disgusting’ plan to hire abortionist” on May 7.

“I think abortion is wrong in every possible circumstance -- except for life of the mother, which is extremely rare,” Students for Human Life rep Nick Johnson said in a statement. “And I am doing everything I can to change the way abortion is perceived in this country.”

Campus Reform did a followup piece on May 8, saying the position had been scrubbed from the school’s website and job boards “soon after Campus Reform’s initial report.”

Jen Aulwes, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, says it “would have been a very valuable program” and they’re disappointed the U will no longer offer it. According to Planned Parenthood’s medical director, there had been no official notification from the U that it was reconsidering the fellowship, let alone an explanation. Planned Parenthood declined to say more.

There’s a shortage of abortion training in United States medical schools, despite the recommendation from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists that all medical schools offer it -- with the option for students to opt out. The fellowship would have been one of only four of its kind in the country.

This all happened just a week after Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a ban on abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy – before many women even know they’re pregnant. Aulwes thinks the St. Paul clinic might see Iowans cross the border to seek services no longer available at home.

But she was far more concerned for women who couldn’t afford to make the trip. The states with the most aggressive restrictions on abortion are also where the most people Google methods for home-brew methods -- pills bought off the internet, coat hangers, even punches to the stomach.

Time will tell if the U will offer the fellowship again as it continues to reevaluate the “value” of the program.