The remarks by Harbaugh, who was quoted as saying, “I believe in having the courage to let the unborn be born,” run counter to those expressed by the university’s interim president.
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Jim Harbaugh, the University of Michigan’s head football coach, professed his anti-abortion views at a fund-raising event this week, becoming one of the first prominent sports figures to speak out against abortion since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“I believe in having the courage to let the unborn be born,” Harbaugh said at the event, according to Detroit Catholic, a news service for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. “I love life. I believe in having a loving care and respect for life and death. My faith and my science are what drive these beliefs in me.”
Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, were speaking at a Plymouth Right to Life event in Plymouth, Mich., on Sunday, according to the organization’s website. A priest from the archdiocese delivered a keynote address titled “We Were Made to Be Courageous” before the Harbaughs gave what the group called “pro-life testimony.”
Harbaugh, who is Catholic and quoted a Bible verse during his remarks, said he had faith in the American public to develop the right policies and laws regarding abortion.
“Yes, there are conflicts between the legitimate rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn child,” he said. “One resolution might involve incredible hardship for the mother, family and society. Another results in the death of an unborn person.”
After the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion last month, several prominent athletes, including the soccer star Megan Rapinoe, criticized the ruling. Until Harbaugh’s speech this week, few sports personalities had spoken publicly against abortion.
Harbaugh’s opinion runs counter to what the interim president of the University of Michigan, Mary Sue Coleman, said after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The day of that ruling, she said, “I strongly support access to abortion services, and I will do everything in my power as president to ensure we continue to provide this critically important care.”
Abortion is currently legal in Michigan but is being contested in the courts, with a judge blocking the enforcement of a 1931 law that bans most abortions from taking effect. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit to stop the ban.
Harbaugh declined an interview through a spokesman for the University of Michigan’s football team. Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the university, said: “Jim Harbaugh attended an event 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.”
As news of Harbaugh’s remarks spread, journalists and Michigan alumni discussed them online, sometimes heatedly.
Jemele Hill, a writer for The Atlantic who used to work for ESPN and is from Detroit, criticized the views that Harbaugh presented. “This might be a difficult concept for Jim Harbaugh” or “any anti-choice person to grasp,” she wrote on Twitter, “but if you don’t want an abortion, just don’t get one. Not that hard.”
Clay Travis, who founded the sports and culture website Outkick, said it was not consistent for journalists to complain after Harbaugh presented his views.
“The same sports media that always argues, ‘Hey, we want everybody to share their political beliefs — speak out as much as you want,’ is going to absolutely rip Jim Harbaugh to shreds because he has a different opinion than they do on abortion,” Travis said in a video posted on Twitter.
Harbaugh has coached at Michigan for seven seasons after turning around the football program at Stanford and leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. He was a quarterback in the N.F.L. for 14 years before moving into the coaching ranks and has not been shy about voicing his opinions.
After George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, Harbaugh marched in a rally against police brutality held in Ann Arbor, Mich. He previously coached Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback who became the center of a firestorm when he stopped standing for the national anthem to protest what Kaepernick called “a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” Harbaugh said then that he supported Kaepernick’s motivation but took exception to his method of action.
According to Detroit Catholic, the priest at the anti-abortion event in Plymouth, the Rev. John Riccardo, said he hoped there were people in the audience who supported abortion rights but had attended because of Harbaugh’s presence.
“I want you to know that you are very welcome here,” said the priest, who graduated from Michigan. “We are so glad that you came and simply want to ask God to help us see reality.”