In a controversial move, Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, decided to formally cut all ties to Planned Parenthood. Beginning in the fall, Whitworth students will no longer be allowed to intern for the pro-choice organization in exchange for college credit.
According to University President Beck Taylor, being a Christian university and having ties to Planned Parenthood sent a "confusing signal" to many of their "constituencies."
Taylor sent the following email to students on Tuesday, explaining the university's decision:
From: Office of the President
Sent: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 2:15:16 PM
To: EX; AM; FS; SS; PT; TP; Contractors; Volunteers; FA; AF; LE; emeritus; DayStudents; ContinuingStudiesGrp; GraduateStudentsGrp
Subject: Message from President Taylor: Planned Parenthood
Dear campus community,
Whitworth’s commitment to be a community informed by ideas and faith is a difficult one to navigate at times. Faithful, thoughtful people will often disagree on how best to navigate the tensions embedded within the university’s mind-and-heart mission. That healthy disagreement is an important indicator of Whitworth’s commitment to diversity and to our enduring mission. Those are just some of the reasons why it has been difficult for me to make a decision regarding Whitworth’s very limited partnership with Planned Parenthood.
I recently instructed the Dornsife Center for Community Engagement not to renew that relationship. This is the only formal partnership the university currently has with Planned Parenthood. At the end of the current academic year, Whitworth will no longer offer credit-bearing service-learning placements or internships with the organization.
For some, this will be a welcome decision. The idea that a Christian university would partner with an organization that provides, among other things, abortion-related services is understandably difficult for some to reconcile. For others, this decision will be seen as a discouraging statement on Whitworth’s willingness to support an organization that provides important access to many health-related services to women and communities.
Given the prominent place that Planned Parenthood holds in our nation’s discourse on issues of freedom of choice and sanctity of life, I have decided that Whitworth’s relationship with the organization, even as limited and tangential as it currently is and has been, sends a confusing signal to many of our constituencies. My hope is that Whitworth will always support both women and gender-related issues and affirm God’s love for all life. Being connected to an organization like Planned Parenthood sends the unintended message to many that Whitworth has taken a side in this social and political debate. Although the university is ending its relationship with Planned Parenthood, this move does not signal a departure from Whitworth’s commitment to promote gender equity and inclusion. This decision should not be seen as a referendum on Whitworth’s support for women. Nor is this decision meant to quash academic freedom or the desire to convene and engage diverse voices from multiple perspectives to address difficult and complex issues. Faculty members will continue to have the freedom to introduce ideas and perspectives in their courses that contribute to Whitworth’s commitment to open and faithful dialogue on issues concerning society and the church. Speakers and artists who hold differing opinions on this important issue will still be invited to campus. People on all sides of the debate will continue to be able to advocate for and discuss their perspectives and viewpoints.
For example, a group of students is currently working with ASWU and Rhosetta Rhodes, Whitworth’s vice president of student life, to form a club that will focus, among other things, on the pro-choice perspective. Although this new club won’t have an affiliation with Planned Parenthood, my hope is that it will contribute to the important campus conversations we are having about these issues. Another student organization was chartered several years ago to serve as an affinity group for students who support the pro-life perspective. The fact that both of these student organizations exist and contribute to intellectual discourse on Whitworth’s campus is an example of our university’s commitment to free expression.
This announcement also understandably raises issues of equity concerning how student clubs and organizations are chartered and sponsored, particularly among any existing relationships with other national organizations. Indeed, I think this decision highlights some potential inconsistencies with respect to how the university’s values are reflected in the chartering of organizations on campus. To this end, I’ve asked Rhosetta Rhodes to convene a representative task force to examine these concerns and to help the university and ASWU chart a better course forward, one that empowers students and also equitably administers the chartering of student clubs and organizations.
The fact that we might disagree on how best to live out Whitworth’s values has never discouraged us from promoting and serving our noble mission. May God grant us the wisdom, humility, and charity to support and nurture the community we’ve built together as we seek to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity.
Beck A. Taylor
Whitworth University also has direct ties to the Presbyterian Church, which takes a strong stand against abortion in its mission statement:
We affirm that the lives of viable unborn babies—those well-developed enough to survive outside the womb if delivered — ought to be preserved and cared for and not aborted. In cases where problems of life or health of the mother arise in a pregnancy, the church supports efforts to protect the life and health of both the mother and the baby. When late-term pregnancies must be terminated, we urge decisions intended to deliver the baby alive. We look to our churches to provide pastoral and tangible support to women in problem pregnancies and to surround these families with a community of care. We affirm adoption as a provision for women who deliver children they are not able to care for, and ask our churches to assist in seeking loving, Christian, adoptive families.The university's decision comes after the student-run newspaper, The Whitworthian, ran an op-ed condemning the school's ties to Planned Parenthood. In the opinion piece, the student author urges the university to take a stand against abortion:
Whitworth trustees, administration and applicable faculty have a responsibility to take a stand on the issue of abortion and Planned Parenthood. To those whom this applies: If you have any semblance of a working moral compass, if you care anything about the ethical standing of this university and if you have any regard whatsoever for your God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless and stand for what is right, take the following steps.
The author suggests:
1) Removing Planned Parenthood as a community partner.
2) Removing all Planned Parenthood materials and fliers from campus.
3) Reviewing textbooks in classrooms to make sure accurate information on abortion is being taught.
4) Publicly condemn what Planned Parenthood stands for.
5) Develop a community partnership with I-Choice, a pregnancy center that provides free pre and post-natal care for pregnant mothers, as well as emotional and relational support.
According to Students for Life President Heidi Thom, before the op-ed, most students didn't see the connection between Whitworth and the abortion giant.
“It kind of brought attention to the connection,” Thom told The Spokesman-Review. "Up to this point, we really didn’t know where he [President Taylor] stood on it."
Thom says after seeing the letter she has a lot more respect for Taylor.
Students for Life on the national level applauded the university's actions, as well:
“The school deserves credit for cutting Planned Parenthood from their campus community and providing an example of a Christian university making an attempt to educate and support students, rather than send them to the nation’s largest abortion provider,” Kristan Hawkins, president of the national SFL organization, said in a statement provided to Campus Reform.
“The email reflects the current nature of the college campus environment, where abortion advocates don’t think twice about offending pro-life students, vandalizing their property, or threatening them on social media,” she elaborated. “But we are so proud of our pro-life students, who face adversity with courage and resolve every day and never back down from defending preborn lives and the women betrayed by Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry.”
After the op-ed appeared in the student newspaper, Generation Action, a pro-choice organization with direct ties to Planned Parenthood, was started on campus.
“We felt that [the opinion piece] wasn’t representative of all students,” Sonia Klouse, the Generation Action president, told The Spokesman-Review.
However, according to Klouse, the university will not officially recognize Generation Action as an official campus club. Doing so would make the club eligible for funding, the ability to reserve campus space, hold events and have tables at fair-style events.
Of course, Planned Parenthood is upset by the decision. It provided a statement to KREM, detailing its disappointment in Whitworth:
“Students who volunteer with us have a tremendous impact on local reproductive health care, education, rights, and justice. We greatly appreciate the many students from local universities who generously give their time and talents to support our patients and to create better health and freedom – particularly for women – in our community. We were both surprised and disappointed to hear that Whitworth students who volunteer with us will no longer have their contributions acknowledged by the school. However, we are confident that this generation will create a world where it’s no longer acceptable to treat a person’s reproductive health and decisions as a political bargaining chip. Instead, reproductive health care will be regarded as what it actually is: A critical, basic human right that is central to every person’s ability to be healthy, live a fulfilling life, and build a bright future.”
This is a small, but very necessary, victory for the unborn.