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In new lawsuit, two UT Austin professors say they won't excuse absences for abortion patients

Two protesters stand in the foreground with medical face masks on. Behind them is another person in an orange shirt holding a sign that reads "abortion is healthcare."
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Gov. Greg Abbott has directed public universities not to comply with the Title IX changes.

Two UT Austin professors are suing the Biden administration over its revision to Title IX regulations that expand protections for LGBTQ+ and pregnant students in federally funded education programs.

The plaintiffs in the case are Daniel Bonevac, a professor of philosophy, and John Hatfield, a professor at the McCombs School of Business. The professors are challenging the new regulations set to go into effect Aug. 1, which include guidance that directs universities to accommodate students who need to miss class for abortion care.

The revised rules also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

“I have no intention of complying with the Biden Administration's recently announced Title IX edict, which has nothing to do with ‘sex’ discrimination and represents nothing more than an attempt to force every educator in the United States to conform to a highly contentious interpretation of gender ideology and abortion rights,” Hatfield and Bonevac each said in declarations for the lawsuit.

The professors signed onto a lawsuit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed in April against Biden administration officials. The suit argues the U.S. Department of Education does not have the authority to make these changes to Title IX and that the changes themselves are unlawful.

“I will not accommodate or become complicit in these crimes by excusing a student’s absence from class if that student skips class to obtain an illegal abortion in Texas, or to perform a self-managed abortion with illegally obtained abortion drugs,” Hatfield said in his filing.

Both Hatfield and Bonevac said in the filings, which mirror each other, that they will accommodate students who are seeking a “medically necessary” abortion for a pregnancy that threatens their life or health.

“But I will not accommodate a purely elective abortion that serves only to kill an unborn child that was conceived through an act of voluntary and consensual intercourse,” the professors wrote.

Hatfield and Bonevac also said they would not honor requests by students asking to be addressed by they/them pronouns, or allow teaching assistants in class to “engage in cross-dressing.”

Abbott directs universities not to comply with Title IX changes

The lawsuit was filed with a federal court in Amarillo, where Trump-appointee Matthew J. Kacsmaryk is the sole district judge. Last year, Kacsmaryk issued a ruling temporarily suspending FDA approval of the abortion drug mifepristone before the U.S. Supreme Court took up the case.

While this case moves through the courts, Gov. Greg Abbott has directed public universities not to comply with the Title IX revisions. “Texas will not comply with President Joe Biden’s rewrite of Title IX that contradicts the original purpose and spirit of the law to support the advancement of women,” the Republican leader wrote in a May 8 letter.

Abbott has also instructed the Texas Education Agency to ignore the changes to Title IX that apply to K-12 schools as well.

Texas is not the only state challenging the updated regulations. More than 20 Republican-led states have sued the Biden administration over the revised Title IX rules.

KUT asked UT Austin whether it plans to comply with the new federal regulations or Abbott’s directive to ignore them. UT spokesperson Mike Rosen said the university “absolutely” plans to comply with Abbott’s directive. He added that because of various legal challenges to the regulations, it’s not yet clear whether they will take effect.

'It’s kind of a made-up scenario'

Emily Witt, a spokesperson with Texas Freedom Network, a progressive group that supports abortion rights, said that if the professors have trouble complying with federal regulations they should not be teaching at a public university.

She said that it’s hard to believe the professors would even know why a student needed an excused absence because it’s a violation of HIPAA law. “It’s kind of a made-up scenario,” Witt said.

Blair Wallace, the reproductive freedom policy and advocacy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, also criticized the UT Austin professors for signing onto the lawsuit against the Biden administration.

“These professors putting their bad opinions and values out in the world, really just gives students a reason to not take their classes,” Wallace said. She said reproductive rights are fundamental human rights and students should be supported, not penalized for making personal medical decisions, including having an abortion.

“Punishing students for seeking an abortion just really undermines the principles of educational equity and civil rights,” she said.

KUT reached out to both professors for comment but has not heard back.

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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