Michigan Medical Students Walk Out of Ceremony to Protest Keynote Speaker's Anti-Abortion Views

Dozens of incoming medical students protested keynote speaker Dr. Kristin Collier, who has publicly expressed anti-abortion views

Incoming medical students at the University of Michigan walked out of their own induction ceremony in protest of the event's keynote speaker, who has openly shared anti-abortion views.

On Sunday, dozens of students and some audience members exited the theatre where the ceremony was held as Dr. Kristin Collier began speaking, as shown in footage posted to Twitter by user @PEScorpiio.

A group of students had petitioned the university to replace Collier, who is listed as a clinical assistant professor who specializes in primary care and internal medicine on the university's website, as the keynote speaker at Sunday's White Coat Ceremony, according to CNN.

The petition, which appeared to circulate as a Google Forms document, noted that Collier "has shared multiple anti-choice posts on her public social media and has made similar comments in interviews," and cited a poll of incoming medical students that indicated nearly all of its respondents were opposed to Collier's speaking at the ceremony.

"While we support the rights of freedom of speech and religion, an anti-choice speaker as a representative of the University of Michigan undermines the University's position on abortion and supports the non-universal, theology-rooted platform to restrict abortion access, an essential part of medical care," the petition reads. "This is not simply a disagreement on personal opinion; through our demand we are standing up in solidarity against groups who are trying to take away human rights and restrict medical care."

University of Michigan
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Elliott Brannon, a medical student who was involved in organizing the petition, said that more than 300 medical students signed it, according to CNN. The university's medical school currently has 785 medical students enrolled, according to its website.

In June, Collier, a graduate of the University of Michigan's medical school herself, told Catholic newsletter The Pillar that she converted to Christianity as an adult and indicated that she adopted an anti-abortion stance sometime after 2018. In the interview, Collier said that she and other anti-abortion health care providers advocate for the "expansion of rights for some of the most vulnerable members of the human family," in reference to unborn fetuses.

"There is no more beautiful testament to the growth of society when it extends rights to a vulnerable population that did not have them before," Collier said in the interview, which was published the same day the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and eliminated a federally-protected right to abortion that had stood for half a century.

In May, Collier expressed similar sentiments on Twitter just one day after Politico obtained and released a leaked draft of the Supreme Court's decision.

University of Michigan
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The University of Michigan told PEOPLE in an emailed statement Tuesday that Collier was selected to speak at the ceremony through an internal nomination and voting system conducted by the medical school's honor society, which it said is "comprised of medical students, house officers and faculty."

"The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussion of controversial issues. Its focus will always be on welcoming students into the profession of medicine," the statement reads. "Dr. Collier never planned to address a divisive topic as part of her remarks. However, the University of Michigan does not revoke an invitation to a speaker based on their personal beliefs."

The statement continued, explaining that the school remains "committed to providing high quality, safe reproductive care for patients, across all their reproductive health needs," including offering abortion care for patients while a Michigan court temporarily blocks enforcement of a 1931 abortion ban in the state.

The man who recorded video of incoming medical students walking out of the ceremony in protest of Collier's speech, Brendan Scorpio, told NPR that he estimated roughly 70 of the 170 incoming medical students at the ceremony walked out, in addition to between 35 and 40% of the audience.

"The overall message that the students wanted to push was that reproductive rights, abortion, is health care," Scorpio, who told NPR he attended the ceremony in support of a friend, said. "Reproductive rights for anyone who is able to give birth are incredibly important and should be something that's allowed to everyone in the country."

At the ceremony, a dean described Collier as "enormously popular" both as a teacher and physician who has worked on the university's faculty for 17 years, according to NPR. Collier also serves as director of the medical school's Health, Spirituality and Religion program, according to NPR.

Collier did not specifically speak about abortion at the White Coat Ceremony address Sunday, according to NPR and CNN.

The students who walked out wrote in a statement that they "saw an opportunity to utilize our position as future physicians to advocate for and stand in solidarity with individuals whose rights to bodily autonomy and medical care are endangered" in walking out of the event, according to NPR.

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