Editorial: UMN should reinstate reproductive rights fellowship

The University should prioritize education over partisan politics.

Daily Editorial Board

Last month, the University of Minnesota delayed an reproductive rights fellowship after an outcry from a conservative media source and anti-abortion groups, with Medical School Dean Jakub Tolar ultimately stating the school would examine the “value of this training in the context of our mission” over the coming year. The University’s reactionary decision to delay sponsoring this fellowship has potential for a myriad of negative short- and long-term consequences for the University, as well as for the entire state of reproductive health care. 

The fellowship would have been sponsored by the University, but ultimately funded by the Reproductive Health Access Project in partnership with Planned Parenthood. This fact is crucial because it doesn’t mean student “tuition dollars would be complicit with this,” as Noah Maldonado, president of anti-abortion student group Bulldog Students for Life, claimed. The recipient of the fellowship would have worked in a Planned Parenthood center in St. Paul and would then be encouraged to remain in reproductive health after the fellowship ended. The loss of a trained reproductive health care provider to our community is incredibly disappointing, especially in our current climate around reproductive rights. Iowa, for example, recently passed a bill banning abortions as early as six weeks, before most women even know they’re pregnant. While the recipient of the fellowship would have been trained in abortion procedures, they would have also been trained to perform intrauterine device (IUDs) insertions and endometrial biopsies, as well as instructed about reproductive rights advocacy. There are precious few of these kinds of fellowships in the U.S. In fact, this fellowship would have been the first of its kind in the Midwest, and only the fourth in the nation.

Since the University is a prominent research university, it only makes sense that our school would support research and training in this under-supported field. And this training is absolutely necessary if reproductive rights and healthcare are justly valued. The data is clear: countries in which abortion is illegal still have abortion rates at comparable levels to those in which abortion is legal. Some studies even suggest abortion rates are actually higher in countries where the practice is illegal. Removal of legal abortions only serves to make safe abortions inaccessible. A society that values the health of women should not only make abortions legal, it should also make available the training necessary to provide those procedures. If we support the right to choose, we should also support safe and rigorous health care that provides women with the services they need.

The precedent this decision sets is a disheartening one for our university. An area of research being controversial does not mean that it should be avoided — in fact, it likely means research is all the more crucial. The University bowing to pressure from lawmakers who threatened to pull funding indicates an institution that values partisan politics over necessary education and progress. The Medical School’s mission is to deliver “innovative, accountable and compassionate care” and to make health care available throughout the state as a “fundamental human right.” This mission will only come to fruition if the University prioritizes advancement of our knowledge and resources, or else the University will become strangled by the limitations of its own cowardice.