Faculty Senate votes to protect freedom to discuss abortion in class

PNW faculty want to protect their academic freedom to discuss abortion and the consequences of Indiana’s effort to ban it.

The Senate voted 18-5 to protect the faculty’s right to research and speak out about the legislation in classes. 

“We want to be sure that … the faculty uses their duty and right to research and teach about it,” said Colette Morrow, director of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. “It is our responsibility as people and professionals.”

In November, the Purdue University-West Lafayette Faculty Senate voted to ask the administration to address the impact of abortion restrictions imposed by the state’s SB1 legislation by improving healthcare benefits and expanding access to contraception on the campus.

The General Assembly last year effectively banned abortion clinics and prevented abortions, except to protect the life or physical health of the mother, in cases of rape or incent or when the unborn child suffers from a lethal fetal condition.

Though federal judges have temporarily halted enforcement of the state’s legislation, Faculty Senators want to make sure instructors can discuss the issues in class. 

“This is an issue that impacts all of our students,” said Diana Underwood, associate professor of Math Education. “We are calling on our colleagues to perform research on the effects of the legislation.”

Morrow and Underwood proposed “Resolution on SB1” to the Faculty Senate to encourage faculty to research and speak about reproductive justice and consequences of Indiana’s abortion laws and inform the Indiana Senate of these concerns. The resolution raises concerns that Indiana’s abortion ban will hurt PNW’s ability to attract diverse faculty.

Diane Spoljoric, associate professor of Nursing, said the Faculty Senate resolution protects instructors’ freedom of speech.

“As faculty, I have to say things that may not be politically correct, or even controversial,” she said. “In academia, I need to have the ability to speak on those topics. I want to speak to students that may not have had these conversations. It’s academic freedom.”

Morrow said the resolution is important because some schools have told faculty to avoid discussing politically touchy subjects.

The University of Idaho, for example, issued a memo advising staff against “counseling in favor for abortion, referring for abortion and promoting abortion.” 

Morrow said she often discusses reproductive rights in class.

“In my classes, there are conversations of concern about the negative impact SB1 has on low-income women and women of color,” she said. “Indiana has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the nation.”

The Indiana Department of Health reports maternal mortality has risen from 12.2 deaths out of 100,000 births in 2018, to 22.9 out of 100,000 in 2020, the Midwest’s highest maternal mortality rate.