Michigan’s highest paid public employee won’t stop running his mouth. But this time, he’s not talking about how his football team is finally going to have their year, which would be relevant. Instead, University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh spewed his anti-abortion beliefs as a keynote speaker at a Right to Life fundraiser over the weekend.
Harbaugh told the crowd he believes “in having the courage to” make people carry out forced pregnancies. “Passions can make the process messy, but when combined with respect, it ultimately produces the best outcomes,” Harbaugh said, according to a Catholic publication present during his speech.
Since his contract got millions of dollars smaller in 2021, after some good seasons that didn’t result in a bowl game win since 2015, Harbaugh has been increasingly talking about his anti-abortion views. (I can’t tell you if there’s causation, but the correlation is definitely there.) In April 2020, Harbaugh went on a National Review podcast to say, “Lastly, abortion, we talk about sanctity of life, yet we live in a society that aborts babies. There can’t be anything more horrendous.”
At the fundraiser, Harbaugh said:
“This [ballot initiative] process has been passionate and messy, but I have faith in the American people to ultimately develop the right policies and laws for all lives involved. I recognize one’s personal thinking regarding morality of a particular action may differ from their thinking on whether government should make that action illegal. There are many things one may hold to be immoral, but the government appropriately allows because of some greater good or personal or constitutional right.
“Ultimately, I don’t believe that is the case with abortion. Yes, there are conflicts between the legitimate rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn child. One resolution might involve incredible hardship for the mother, family and society. Another results in the death of an unborn person.”
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Harbaugh is the highest-paid employee in the state of Michigan. And he works for a public university whose mission is to support all Michiganders. As the most well-known figurehead of the university (can you name the University of Michigan president? I don’t think so), when Harbaugh speaks, it reflects on the University.
After the Dobbs decision was announced, the university and its medical system affirmed their commitment to 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, which remains legal in Michigan, even following today’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion,” spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement.
The Athletic Department, of which Harbaugh is a representative figure as a longtime football coach, did not return multiple calls for comment. But the University of Michigan, in a statement to Jezebel, said that Harbaugh “attended and shared his personal views as any citizen has the constitutional right to do. He was sharing his personal beliefs and not speaking on behalf of the university.”
Even if you accept that Harbaugh does not speak for the university as a public figure—despite being introduced by his coaching title and auctioning off Michigan football memorabilia—keeping a tidy house is critical to institutions that run on student money. College admission counselors noticed earlier this year that high schoolers are pulling away from universities with anti-abortion policies at either the state or local level. What does the university expect to happen if its most high-profile surrogate loudly, and proudly, says he’s against abortion?
Meanwhile, Harbaugh is choosing to use his spotlight to parrot anti-abortion language while cloaking it under the good of football. “In God’s plan, each unborn human truly has a future filled with potential, talent, dreams, and love,” he said at the Right to Life fundraiser. “I have living proof in my family, my children, and the many thousands that I’ve coached that the unborn are amazing gifts from God to make this world a better place. To me, the right choice is to have the courage to let the unborn be born.”
This is not the only time Harbaugh has shrugged off the importance of bodily autonomy. Former NFL player and sexual assault survivor Jon Vaughn, who was raped by former University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson, has criticized Harbaugh for his response to sexual assault allegations at the university, as well as the subsequent protests. Harbaugh has also defended former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler against claims that he was alerted to Anderson’s behavior. “There was nothing that ever was swept under the rug or ignored. He addressed everything in a timely fashion,” Harbaugh said in June 2021.
Those are the words of a man who has never had a deep thought in his life, nor a man who has considered how he—or the young men he makes money off of—have benefited from bodily autonomy. Still, he remains the man in Michigan making the most from a public institution. Condolences to Michiganders.