Standing against abortion at Baylor
After pro-lifers discover links between the school and Planned Parenthood, some students call for clarity from the administration
Before music education major David Folks decided to attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for his undergraduate degree, several things attracted him to the school. One was his respect for the music faculty. Another was the school’s proximity to his hometown, Dallas. But what pushed him over the edge was the Baptist school’s expressed commitment to Christianity. On its website, Baylor describes itself as one of the few institutions of higher education that continues to embrace its Christian heritage. The school’s mission statement cites “the person and work of Jesus Christ” and “the biblical record” as foundational to its “understanding of God, humanity and nature.”
Now a junior and president of the campus pro-life club Bears for Life, Folks is frustrated by what he calls his school’s lack of clarity on life issues.
In 2020 and 2021, Folks and other pro-life students found Planned Parenthood–related materials on Baylor’s campus. Upon request, the staff at the health center sent Folks a handout that listed Planned Parenthood as a “[sexually transmitted infection] testing resource.” Staff told Folks in an email that “we only send people to PP if they need STI screening services or low-cost birth control.” A 2006-2007 handbook named the Planned Parenthood Teen Education Program as an internship site. Over summer 2021, a Students for Life staff person told Folks about a Planned Parenthood job opening for a “Community Health Educator” listed on the Baylor School of Social Work’s website. And in the fall semester, two pro-life students texted Folks pictures of a class textbook that called abortion “safer than childbirth.” Folks believes those links to Planned Parenthood, the most well-known U.S. abortion provider, show that “there’s not clarity on what Baylor stands for as a Christian university with respect to the sanctity of life.
He and other pro-life students fear that’s having an effect on young Baylor women. Folks and about six other students participate in a rotation of sidewalk counseling outside of the nearby Planned Parenthood, a 15-minute drive from campus. They have noticed Baylor students visiting the facility. “I see Baylor cars go in there all the time,” he said. “I see sorority stickers.”
Folks relayed his concerns to university staff members through multiple emails seen by WORLD, Zoom calls, and in-person meetings over a span of several months. He said the school removed Planned Parenthood from the STI testing resource list and clarified that the handbook was outdated and had already been replaced. But the School of Social Work didn’t take down the Planned Parenthood job listing, although a Baylor official told Folks in an email that the school had deleted some wording on the page that previously stated the school was in “constant contact” with the organizations listed. Folks said the staff member working with him told him addressing the textbook concern was outside of her authority.
Students for Life of America, an organization supporting pro-life groups in campuses across the country, listed the remaining concerns about Baylor in a recent report highlighting connections between groups that support abortion and 69 Catholic and Protestant schools throughout the country. Most commonly, the schools listed Planned Parenthood as a health resource for students or as an internship or volunteer opportunity. Some schools have allowed the abortion business to exhibit at career fairs. Originally, the Students for Life researchers found 103 Catholic and Protestant schools with some sort of Planned Parenthood connection, but 34 schools removed all such references after Students for Life contacted them privately with the information.
For example, the websites of the University of Notre Dame and St. John’s University, both Catholic institutions, had listed Planned Parenthood as a potential employer for their women’s studies programs. University officials at both schools removed the content, telling Students for Life they were outdated materials. The University of San Francisco, also Catholic, had listed Planned Parenthood as an internship partner but removed the pages in October after hearing from Students for Life.
But some schools, like Baylor, pushed back, according to the pro-life organization. I reached out to Baylor for comment about the report. Chief marketing officer Jason Cook responded with a statement from the university saying that Baylor “respects the sanctity of life” and does not allow “for the institutional promotion of abortion or abortion-related services on our campus.”
Students for Life noted ongoing problems at other schools: Oklahoma City University, a Methodist school, still lists Planned Parenthood as a health resource (and an STI testing site) for students, as does Southern Methodist University. A spokesperson for Oklahoma City University told me, “The university will continue to include this resource on the website.” Southern Methodist University said in a statement that part of the university’s mission is to “encourage and facilitate robust discussion of opposing viewpoints on controversial topics including abortion.” That university pointed out that its Women and LGBT Center’s website includes “both pro-life and pro-choice resources including … Birthright International as well as Planned Parenthood.”
Norvilia Etienne, one of the lead Students for Life researchers, contacted Baylor leadership via email in September about the remaining concerns at that university. Etienne copied Folks on the email. Later, the university’s provost, Nancy Brickhouse, responded to concerns about the textbook, explaining, “we must support academic freedom for our faculty.” (The textbook, Core Concepts in Health, is a common health textbook in higher education and appears to be in use at other nominally Christian schools. I contacted Baylor with questions for the course instructors but did not hear back.)
In response to a question from Etienne about the job posting, Brickhouse said it “was simply that, an opportunity for one of our social work graduates to work with a local non-profit that offers women a broad range of services. There is no evidence that this position provides or promotes abortion services.”
“I appreciate the commitment to academic freedom,” said Folks of the provost’s response. “But, at the same time, the whole point of a Christian institution is that we should be teaching through a Christian worldview.”
In early December, Folks noticed Planned Parenthood was no longer on the list of social work job opportunities, although it’s unclear when the listing came down or why it was removed. A PDF with a description of the Planned Parenthood job was still live on Baylor’s website in early January, but a link to the job application website was no longer active. The Planned Parenthood contact listed on job description page did not respond to my request for confirmation on whether the job opening was filled.
Baylor’s statement to WORLD also noted the university’s partnership with the local pro-life Care Net pregnancy center in community outreach efforts. But according to a 2012 letter to the university’s School of Social Work from the Waco Care Net pregnancy center, that school discontinued sending students to Care Net for internships after doing so for five years. Cook said in December that Baylor supported Care Net, but he would not comment on “decisions from nine years ago.” The Waco Care Net center director, Deborah McGregor, told me many other schools at Baylor continue to send students to Care Net for internships, but the School of Social Work “has consistently ignored requests for interns.”
“I don’t believe that Baylor University is actively promoting abortion,” Folks said. “I’m saying that they’ve been silent and that that’s been allowing compromises in various departments that they need to stop.”
He thinks the school’s unclear stance may have contributed to the vehicles from campus he says he’s spotted arriving at the local Planned Parenthood. “I see people my age … and it breaks my heart that this is such a problem on our campus and that nobody’s doing anything about it.” Other sidewalk counselors, both from the university and from the community, confirmed that they’ve also seen Baylor students going to Planned Parenthood.
Rebecca Brown, 40, has been sidewalk counseling outside of the Planned Parenthood for a little over a year. She comes weekly on Thursday mornings and said she sees young women wearing Baylor gear or with Baylor bumper stickers coming to the center once or twice a month. Brown told one such Baylor student on Dec. 16 about the pro-life resources available to her in the community and at the university. But the student replied to Brown that she had to go to Planned Parenthood because being pregnant at that point would “ruin her life.” According to Brown, the student had come for an initial ultrasound consultation and planned to return later to take the abortion pill.
Kirby Paddock, who worked with Folks last year as the Bears for Life vice president, first came to Baylor as a married student. She knew there was a possibility she could get pregnant while on campus but worried about a rumor she had heard that Baylor expelled pregnant women. Paddock soon learned that wasn’t true: The school hasn’t barred pregnant women from classes in decades. But, while on campus, she continued to hear the same rumor from other confused students. “That’s the kind of rumor that sends people to Planned Parenthood,” said Paddock.
Folks has heard it, too. He said one Bears for Life table in September polled passersby about whether or not they knew a student could be pregnant on campus, and a surprising number said no. He’d like the school to publish a statement clarifying its stance on abortion. In the meantime, he and other Bears for Life members continue to hand out resource cards to raise awareness about the pro-life options available to students on campus. He hopes students with unplanned pregnancies get the message: “We want to help you.”
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