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Op-Ed: Mo. Sen. Targeting Student Researcher Is Attack on Academic Freedom, Free Speech

Op-Ed: Mo. Sen. Targeting Student Researcher Is Attack on Academic Freedom, Free Speech

November 18, 2015 — Columnist Jessica Valenti in an opinion piece for The Guardian writes about a Missouri senator's efforts to block research on a mandatory delay law (HR 1307) in the state, noting, "Apparently it's no longer enough for [conservatives] to try to stop women from getting abortions. Now they want to stop us from writing about them, too."

According to Valenti, Missouri Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R) last month sent a letter to the University of Missouri, claiming that a doctoral student's dissertation on the law, which imposes a 72-hour mandatory delay before abortions, was an illegal use of public funds. The student, Lindsay Ruhr, also works as a research coordinator for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

Valenti writes, "Maybe Schaefer just doesn't want to know about the ways anti-choice laws hurt women." She explains that while prior research shows mandatory delays "don't stop women from getting abortions; they just make it harder and more dangerous for them ... solid research saying as much about Missouri's law in particular wouldn't reflect well on the laws [Schaefer] is trying to protect."

Valenti continues, "Beyond Schaefer, who even asked the university chancellor to provide him copies of materials pertaining to the research and its approval, at broader issue is the chilling effect this kind of attack has on academic freedom and speech." She notes that Ruhr does not "receiv[e] any scholarship or grant money from the university for the research," adding, "Are we really going to ban anyone who works for reproductive rights organizations from writing about their work? From studying?"

She writes, "We've already seen the impact that stifling speech around abortion has abroad: the Global Gag Rule, repealed by President Obama but still being bandied about by politicians, prevented organizations for decades that received US funding from talking to women about abortion, even if the procedure was legal in that country."

Valenti continues, "[T]he way we find out crucial information about women's health needs is through research, and through talking," adding, "Studying abortion doesn't promote the procedure, but it will help us understand how to best help women." She concludes, "[A]cademic freedom and free speech trumps politicians' discomfort with the idea that women have reproductive rights" (Valenti, The Guardian, 11/16).