More than 1,000 Seattle University students, alumni and faculty members are pushing back against the school’s president after he decided to remove Planned Parenthood from an online list of health-care resources.
A group of about 30 students gathered outside the school’s Casey Building to protest Monday afternoon, while SU President Stephen Sundborg met with about eight faculty members inside. The group also delivered a letter — signed by 1,026 staff and students as of Monday afternoon — to Sundborg to voice their concerns with his choice, which he says he made late last month based on Catholic beliefs.
“I made this decision, consistent with my own and other presidents’ previous practice, in my responsibility to publicly represent our university as Catholic and in reflecting the central teaching of the Catholic Church regarding abortion — specifically as a significant moral issue — and not any other services provided by Planned Parenthood,” Sundborg said in a letter to the community.
He emphasized that while the university, which is a private Jesuit school, will not officially associate with Planned Parenthood, faculty and staff are free to discuss the organization on a personal or academic basis.
The decision came after Sundborg received a letter from the Virginia-based anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, according to SU’s student newspaper, The Spectator.
Matt Lamb, a Students for Life spokesman, said the organization is sending letters to several Catholic and Christian schools that mention Planned Parenthood on their websites, including Augustana College in Illinois and Edgewood College in Wisconsin. Their goal is to push schools to cut all ties with Planned Parenthood, he said. SU has been the only school to take action so far, Lamb said.
“They’re a Catholic university — they should be against abortions,” Lamb said. “And there are resources available that aren’t as controversial. … They should just put more neutral county health clinics up, or a student health-care center.”
SU has a Students for Life chapter, but club leaders did not respond to requests for comment.
Sundborg made a similar decision to remove three references to Planned Parenthood from the university’s website in 2011, according to a separate statement. The most recent decision was made to be consistent with past ones, the statement said.
Many students and staff members weren’t happy with the news.
Tara Vindla, one of the co-authors of the letter and an SU senior, said she first heard about the removal from a Washington Times article published a few weeks ago.
“A lot of us were really upset that we heard it from an outside source and heard that an unaffiliated pro-life group was able to so quickly influence our president’s decision regarding having Planned Parenthood on the website,” Vindla said.
Theresa Earenfight, an SU history professor and program director of women and gender studies, said one of her main concerns was that Sundborg removed the reference seemingly without consulting anyone else.
“That raises red flags for shared governance,” Earenfight said. “This is a decision that affects everyone in the community … we should at least be consulted. And yes, he’s the president and yes, he has the authority to make decisions on his own, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.”
Sundborg is standing by his decision. But, after the Monday meeting, he acknowledged the process should have been handled differently, and that faculty, staff and students should have been consulted.
“[Sundborg] believes there is a need for the campus community to engage more deeply in dialogue on policy and processes around the Catholic character of Seattle University and how we carry it out,” the statement said.
While it was a good step, Earenfight said there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Natalie Van Houten, a graduate student in SU’s midwifery program, said she was disappointed, but not surprised.
“In my job as a nurse at a health clinic, it is, in my opinion, unethical to counsel someone without all of their options if you’re in a health-care setting,” Van Houten said. “We have a duty to give people informed consent and give people all the information and resources needed … It is immoral to block them from making those decisions.”