William Duncan

Amid abortion flap, Sierra College president withdraws from women's health forum

Published: Thursday, Mar. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 22, 2012 - 8:45 am

The president of Sierra College in Rocklin has withdrawn as welcoming speaker at a forum about women's health after anti-abortion groups complained that panel members promoted abortion.

"Because of the controversy swirling around, he decided to withdraw," said Sue Michaels, public information officer for Sierra College. "We want to make sure people know the district is neutral."

Sierra President William Duncan informed school leaders earlier this week that he would not give the opening remarks at the forum, called "Reproductive Justice," at the school's annual Cesar E. Chavez Higher Education Speaker Series. The free event will be held at the campus' Dietrich Theater at 12:30 p.m. today.

Michaels said abortion opponents came to the school board meeting last week to complain about the forum. The group asked that the event be canceled or the panel members be changed, she said.

Wynette Sills was one of those who approached school leaders.

"This is nothing but an abortion infomercial at taxpayer expense at an institution of higher learning, and an insult to the legacy of Cesar Chavez, who was a devout Catholic," said Sills.

Topics during the 90-minute forum include access to health care, contraceptives, pregnancy options, prenatal care, cancer screening, preventative measures and menopause.

Scheduled speakers are former state Sen. Liz Figueroa; Shauna Heckert, executive director of California Women's Health Specialists; Jan Flint Robinson, executive director of Black Women for Wellness; Lisa Ikemoto, professor of law at UC Davis; and Sharon O'Hara, vice president of Nevada County Citizens for Choice.

According to the school's website, "the purpose of the series is to advance the social justice and cultural awareness agenda that Cesar Chavez and others worked so hard to achieve."

In response to the complaints, Sierra College officials agreed not to fund the panel, said Michaels. The school has also scheduled a forum on abortion for April 16.

Michaels attributes the controversy to a poster which called the forum "Reproductive Justice: Does a Woman Have the Right to Choose?"

Michaels said the title printed on the poster was outdated and the name was eventually changed. "That was our mistake," she said.

"These are experts in women's health," Michaels said. "I think for this forum, they are absolutely appropriate. The personal opinion of the panelists is irrelevant."

Sills did not accept that explanation. "This is their excuse for holding a one-sided panel," she said. "They just happened to have hundreds of fliers posted around campus with the wrong name?"

A similar discussion about women's health issues – sponsored by Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento – was held last week at Sacramento State.

"We're not pro-life or pro-choice," Michaels said. "We're pro-exchange of ideas."

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