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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Whitworth cuts ties with Planned Parenthood

FILE – The Planned Parenthood office on Indiana Avenue on  Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Whitworth University is ending an affiliation with Planned Parenthood that allowed students to receive credit for internships and volunteer at the organization’s Spokane offices.

Whitworth President Beck Taylor announced the decision in a letter sent to the campus Tuesday, the Whitworthian reported.

Taylor said the university’s “limited and tangential” affiliation with Planned Parenthood sent “a confusing signal to many of our constituencies” but reaffirmed the university’s commitment to gender equity and a diversity of opinions.

“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,” Taylor wrote.

Whitworth is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. The national church’s official position on abortion is nuanced and includes a call for Presbyterians to work to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. It says the sanctity of life must be respected while affirming that choosing to terminate a pregnancy can be a moral choice in some situations and calls on church members to respect a diversity of beliefs on the issue.

The change was celebrated by leaders of Whitworth’s Students for Life chapter, which had advocated for an end to the partnership, while Planned Parenthood and pro-choice leaders on campus said they were disappointed with Taylor’s decision.

Discussion on campus started after student James Silberman wrote a controversial op-ed in the Whitworthian calling on the university to cut ties with Planned Parenthood last October.

Before that, many pro-life students on campus weren’t aware of the connection, Students for Life president and junior Heidi Thom said.

“It kind of brought attention to the connection,” she said.

Thom said student leaders met with administrators several times asking them to end the partnership.

“Up to this point, we really didn’t know where he stood on it,” she said. After seeing the letter, “I have a lot more respect for him,” she said.

The op-ed last fall spurred students to create a pro-choice advocacy group on campus, Generation Action.

“We felt that wasn’t representative of all students,” said Sonia Klouse, the Generation Action president.

Nationally, there are about 275 campus chapters of the group, which is affiliated with Planned Parenthood.

Klouse said Whitworth has been unwilling to give Generation Action an official charter unless the club drops its affiliation with Planned Parenthood. The group has started an online petition asking the university to reconsider, which has gathered more than 500 signatures.

A charter would allow them to receive funding, reserve campus spaces, hold events and have a table at club fairs, she said.

Students for Life is a chartered campus club.

She said allowing internships with Planned Parenthood as one of dozens of community organizations should be acceptable in a university that values a diversity of ideas.

“They’re not required to have those internships,” she said of the pro-life students who were upset by the connection. “As an institution, it’s important to have both sides represented.”

In a statement, Joy Peltier, chief external affairs officer of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, said they were “disappointed to hear that Whitworth students who volunteer with us will no longer have their contributions acknowledged by the school.”

“Supporting reproductive health care, personal freedom, and human rights are not partisan or ‘political’ issues. In fact, these are values that the majority of Americans from all backgrounds share,” Peltier wrote. She invited Taylor to speak with Planned Parenthood staff and visit the Spokane clinic.

A university spokeswoman said Wednesday that Taylor was not available for an interview about the decision.