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Michigan medical students walk out of induction ceremony to protest keynote speaker with anti-abortion views


By Amanda Jackson and Caroll Alvarado, CNN

Dozens of incoming University of Michigan medical students walked out of their medical school induction ceremony Sunday to protest a keynote speaker with anti-abortion views.

As Dr. Kristin Collier, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the university, began delivering her keynote speech, several dozen students abruptly stood up and began filing out of the auditorium, video shows. Some audience members can also be seen leaving.

Before Sunday’s White Coat Ceremony, in which incoming medical students are cloaked with their first medical coats, some students had petitioned the school to replace Collier with another speaker, citing her anti-abortion views.

“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.

Medical student Elliott Brannon, who helped organize the petition, told CNN more than 300 medical students signed it. The walkout and petition were mostly organized by incoming medical students with the support of current students, Brannon said.

“This is not simply a disagreement on personal opinion,” the petition said. “(T)hrough our demand, we are standing up in solidarity against groups who are trying to take away human rights and restrict medical care.”

Collier, who also directs the medical school’s program on health, spirituality and religion, has previously expressed anti-abortion views, including in a May 4 tweet.

“(H)olding on to a view of feminism where one fights for the rights of all women and girls, especially those who are most vulnerable. I can’t not lament the violence directed at my prenatal sisters in the act of abortion, done in the name of autonomy,” the tweet read, later adding, “Liberation that costs innocent lives is just oppression that is redistributed.”

The university told CNN Collier was chosen to be the keynote speaker by members of the medical school’s Gold Humanism Honor Society. In a statement, the university stood by the decision to keep her as the event speaker.

“The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussion of controversial issues,” the statement said. “Its focus will always be on welcoming students into the profession of medicine. 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 university also reiterated that its reproductive care still includes abortion.

“The University of Michigan and Michigan Medicine remain committed to providing high quality, safe reproductive care for patients, across all their reproductive health needs. This includes abortion care,” the statement said.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal in Michigan. While the state had a 1931 abortion ban on the books, the restriction is temporarily blocked by a state court.

CNN reached out to Collier for comment but has not received a response.

Collier said during the ceremony that she was honored to be chosen to speak. Before giving a speech to the new students about how to survive and flourish in the medical field, she appeared to nod to the controversy.

“I want to acknowledge the deep wounds our community has suffered over the past several weeks,” she said. “We have a great deal of work to do for healing to occur and I hope that for today, for this time, we can focus on what matters most, coming together to support our newly accepted students and their families with a goal of welcoming them into one of the greatest vocations that exists on this earth — the vocation of medicine.”

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