Screenshot by NPR; Video: Brendan Scorpio
On Sunday night at the annual white coat ceremony of the University of Michigan Medical School, incoming medical students chanted oaths, received their white coats — then dozens of them walked out.
The keynote speaker: Dr. Kristin Collier, a Michigan faculty member and family physician who has spoken publicly about her Christian beliefs and stances against abortion.
A video posted online shows dozens of students walking out of the auditorium as Collier began her speech. The video, recorded and posted by Detroit resident Brendan Scorpio, has been viewed more than 11 million times.
Incoming medical students walk out at University of Michigan white coat ceremony as keynote speaker is openly anti-abortion pic.twitter.com/Is7KmVV811
— Scorpio (@PEScorpiio) July 24, 2022
In an interview with NPR, Scorpio, who attended the ceremony to support a friend in the incoming medical student class, estimated that about 70 of the 170 incoming students walked out, followed by some friends and family “in solidarity.”
In total, he estimated, 35 to 40% of the public took part in the strike.
“The general message the students wanted to get across was that reproductive rights, abortion, are healthcare,” Scorpio said. “Reproductive rights for anyone who can give birth is incredibly important and should be allowed for everyone in the country.”
In an emailed statement, the University of Michigan said Collier was chosen to give the keynote address through a system of nominations and votes by an honorary association of medical schools.
“The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussion of controversial issues,” the school said in a statement. “Dr. Collier never intended to cover a divisive topic as part of her comments. However, the University of Michigan will not withdraw an invitation to a speaker based on their personal beliefs.”
The university remains “committed to providing high-quality, safe reproductive care for patients, in all their reproductive health needs,” including abortion care, the statement said.
Collier served on the Michigan faculty for 17 years, according to her introduction by a dean, who described her as a “hugely popular” teacher and physician. She is director of the medical school’s Health, Spirituality and Religion program.
Collier is a frequent speaker and panelist on bioethics and the role of spirituality in healthcare. On her Twitter, she has written about racism, ageism, and competence in medicine, and advocated better access to health care for inmates and residents of rural America.
But it was her comments about abortion that came under scrutiny from Michigan medical students.
In an interview with a Catholic newsletter published last month, Collier said she had grown up in a non-religious household and had come to Christianity — and her current anti-abortion beliefs — as an adult, after completing medical school. school and becoming a doctor.
“[H]moving towards a vision of feminism that fights for the rights of all women and girls, especially those who are most vulnerable. I cannot complain about the violence against my prenatal sisters in abortion, done in the name of autonomy.” Collier wrote: in the days following the publication of a draft Supreme Court’s annulment decision Roe v. Wade.
adhere to a vision of feminism that fights for the rights of all women and girls, especially the most vulnerable. I cannot complain about the violence against my prenatal sisters in abortion, done in the name of autonomy.
— Kristin Collier (@KristinCollie20) May 4, 2022
“Liberation that costs innocent lives is simply oppression being redistributed,” she concluded.
After medical school officials invited her to speak at the ceremony, students circulated a petition calling for a speaker change, citing anti-abortion comments in her tweets and public appearances. More than 400 students, alumni and faculty are reported to have signed it.
“An anti-election speaker representing the University of Michigan undermines the university’s stance on abortion and supports the non-universal, theologically rooted platform to limit access to abortion,” the petition authors wrote.
Abortion is legal in Michigan, although the procedure is subject to a number of restrictions, including a ban on post-viability unless the mother’s life is endangered. Women seeking an abortion in Michigan are subject to an “informed consent” law and must wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure.
In her comments on Sunday, Collier did not explicitly mention abortion. Instead, she urged incoming students to maintain their humanity throughout their medical training and career.
really grateful for the support, emails, texts, prayers and letters I have received from all over the world regarding the event that will take place today. I feel so empowered by it. and to my team that carried me through this every day — I love you
— Kristin Collier (@KristinCollie20) July 24, 2022
“You can easily see your patients as a bag of blood and bone, or see life as molecules in motion,” she said. “Get to know your patients as people, not just their scans, labs, chemistry and data.”
Before the ceremony, apparently in response to news of the petition calling for her removal as a keynote speaker, Collier wrote on Twitter that she was “truly grateful for the support, emails, texts, prayers and letters I from all over the world.”
“[I] feel so empowered by it. and to my team who helped me through this every day – I love you,” she wrote.
Collier did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.