On April 18, Whitworth University President Beck A. Taylor sent a letter to the campus community announcing his decision to deny college credit for student internships with Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of sexual and reproductive health services.
“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,” he wrote in a campus-wide missive.
As Whitworth University alums who consulted with a larger group of alumni as we wrote this, we feel this decision casts a negative light on an academic institution that encourages analytical and open-minded thinking. President Taylor’s attempt to make Whitworth a neutral player achieved the opposite, placing Whitworth in the center of polarizing American politics, fixating on abortion alone. The decision diminishes the importance of women’s health overall, and the fact that many women often receive better health care from Planned Parenthood than they do from other health care providers.
Every year, Planned Parenthood offers more than 2.5 million patients of all genders a wide range of low-cost to free health care, including sexual education, access to contraceptives, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and infections, screenings for cervical and prostate cancer, advocating for victims of sexual assault and administering abortions, the latter of which account for just three-percent of its services.
By focusing on the controversy of abortion services, President Taylor’s action frames reproductive health as a black and white, pro-life vs. pro-choice political issue. If he truly wants to demonstrate the university’s commitment to gender equality and diversity of opinions, then Taylor should allow the pro-choice student group to affiliate on campus, just as he has with the pro-life group.
The university’s faculty and staff should encourage opportunities for students to explore the complexities around the broader issues of reproductive health, rather than limiting the discussion to one aspect alone. In this way, Whitworth would foster dialogue, learning and deeper analysis, while helping to inspire empathy and awareness across today’s political divides.
During our time at Whitworth, we were encouraged to develop strong social-justice values and a commitment to lifelong service. As women who have dedicated our lives to public health, public safety and global development issues, we value the complexity of real-world concerns and the importance of exploring all sides for the greater public good.
We are embarrassed by President Taylor’s decision and fear the impact it will have on Whitworth’s image, legacy and credibility as an institution that respects gender equity and promotes unbiased learning.
Renée Hopkins (Class of ’95) and Laurie Werner (Class of ’94).
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