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Monday, June 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr.: I gave $26 million to Alabama. Here’s why they gave it back.

By Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. Special to the Washington Post

I am proud to have been born and raised in Alabama. My family’s roots run deep in the state and, for decades, we have been honored to celebrate that heritage by supporting the University of Alabama. It’s where my father learned to practice law, which gave him the tools to succeed in America, along with a strong understanding of right and wrong. Over the past 30 years, we have chosen to repay that debt and make use of our good fortune by supporting the university financially. I’ve long believed that the school served the public good by training the next generation of leaders and, last year, I made the decision to donate $26.5 million so that those leaders could flourish just as my family has.

My love for Alabama is exactly why I was so horrified to watch its lawmakers trample over the Constitution last month. The ban on abortion they passed wasn’t just an attack against women, it was an affront to the rule of law itself. Part of being an American is engaging in public debate, and we can disagree over this issue. But the courts settled this matter a long time ago: Abortion is legal. So it was shocking to see legislators ignore this and pass a bill that turned women and health professionals into criminals, and it felt important to say so publicly.

I expected that speaking out would have consequences, but I never could have imagined the response from the University of Alabama, which on Friday said they would be returning my gift and removing my name from the law school. This decision will hurt future students. Less money will be available for scholarships, and there will be fewer resources for the school to use to educate young minds and help them grow.

It has been painful to witness administrators at the university choose zealotry over the well-being of its own students, but it’s another example of the damage this attack on abortion rights will do to Alabama. The bill will not survive a court challenge, and likely will cost the state a great deal in court fees and other expenses that could be used to help its citizens. But for those who support it, that collateral damage doesn’t even merit a passing thought. Total victory must be achieved, even if it means running roughshod over people’s rights and harming students.

This isn’t just about politics. I am an independent – not a Democrat or a Republican. But taking away a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body isn’t about politics either; it’s an act of oppression. This is a moment for people of conscience to take a stand and be prepared to speak out against the actions of lawmakers in states such as Alabama who want to roll back the clock to an era where women needed to risk their lives to get an abortion. That’s why I have chosen to support the American Civil Liberties Union in its challenge of this unconscionable act. And I urge others to do so, too.

Until the action by the board of trustees to remove my name from the law school and to return my donation, I have been the largest donor in the history of the university, and my father’s name still adorns the College of Business. Like me, he would have been saddened to see the self-destructive turn taken by lawmakers in the state he loved. During the 1950s, he was an officer with Planned Parenthood in Miami, and I am certain that he also would have spoken out against what’s transpired in the Alabama Legislature. Friday’s decision is a charade, as the governor of Alabama, who signed the abortion bill into law, is a voting trustee of the university.

At the end of the day, the people who will be most harmed by the university’s decision are those who need help the most. Fewer students will have scholarships that could provide resources for them to unlock their potential, and administrators have sent a message to young women that their agency is not respected or valued. And for what, to send a message that the school doesn’t respect the very law it purports to teach?

My family remains committed to supporting students in reaching their true potential, and we are currently examining other alternatives to help fulfill this goal.

There will be no winners in the wake of the decision Alabama has made to attack the constitutional rights of women. The state will become more divided and isolated, and it will be people such as the future students of the University of Alabama law school who will suffer the consequences. Whether my name is taken down is unimportant, but I hope university administrators will contemplate all the names that will never appear on their admissions rolls, as well.

Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. is a real estate investor and lawyer who resides in Miami.

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