Med Schools screening out Pro-Life candidates?

Dr. Dan Kuebler helps a student with a lab project. Photo: Franciscan University of Steubenville

Medical schools use open-ended questions to weed out pro-life candidates, writes Dr. Daniel Kuebler, professor of biology here at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Dr. Kuebler is a key professor in our pre-med program which, over the past ten years, has had an average of three graduates accepted into medical schools upon graduation, out of about 5 or 6 who are known to have applied. That number has grown to about five out of eight in the past few years as our bio and pre-med programs have grown. That growth continues as the University has committed itself to growing the hard sciences further and having a greater culture-of-life impact.

In his article he talks about open-ended questions tossed into interviews that seem innocuous enough, and may well be innocuous at some schools. “Suppose a girl and her boyfriend walk into your office seeking an abortion or a referral for an abortion: what do you say to them?” At some schools this could simply be a serious question probing into the candidate’s preparation for handling some of the most sensitive areas of medicine. At other schools, this could be the question to rule all questions. Dr. Kuebler’s contention, and that of a not-insignificant body of anecdotal evidence, is that a fair number of schools use that question to identify the pro-life students and then find another, legitimate reason to opt for another candidate over the pro-life candidate.

Naturally, not all pro-life candidates for med school are the best candidate among the many applications submitted, and in those cases where another candidate is more qualified for the finite number of slots, the more qualified candidate ought to be admitted. But that’s just it: whether a person is opposed to or supports abortion rights ought not weigh into the decision at all.

(Obviously, from the Catholic perspective, anyone who supports abortion ought not be considered a viable candidate for med school, just as we wouldn’t consider someone who advocates for live vivisections or forced medical experiments on the handicapped a viable candidate, but given our present culture we have to take what we can get and work to redeem the time.)

I asked Brian Burke, a friend of mine and a relatively recent graduate of our pre-med program who is presently in med school, about his interview experience. He said that of the three schools that brought him in for an interview the first two posed abortion-related questions and University of Toledo did not. He was only accepted by Toledo, despite being a “strong candidate” on the merits.

The Toledo interviewers did still ask “in depth” about Franciscan and why he chose Franciscan. At the end of the interview the only thing evident from that line of questioning was that he considers himself a faithful Catholic. These days Burke is vice president of the student portion of the Catholic Medical Association and contributes to their blog.

Of the overall admissions and interview process he says,

The challenge is that medical school is SO competitive that it is impossible to know for certain (unless someone says something overtly) if you are being discriminated against in the application process. I was a fairly strong candidate, but I had a difficult time getting into medical school. I know that at Toledo, one of the big things that helped me was actually having a Franciscan grad who was on the admissions committee. Did I have a difficult time because of my time at Franciscan and my Catholic outreaches? Or is it because I am a white, male? I am not sure I will ever really know, but I suspect that being a faithful, Catholic, and actively pro–life did not help my cause any.

Dr. Kuebler related a story about another student applying at a different school who actually got into an argument with one of the interviewers when it became apparent that the abortion-related questioning was a fishing expedition. The student likely could have handled the situation a little more diplomatically, but the fishing expedition on the part of the professional was uncalled for, unnecessary, and, frankly, in conflict with federal law.

Federal law prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the usual host of demographics as well as conscience and religious issues like being pro-life. They do not prohibit asking abortion related questions, however, which creates, as Dr. Kuebler characterizes it, “a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.”

A new effort within the pre-med program here at Franciscan, according to Dr. Kuebler, will include interview preparation. Students ought to anticipate such questions and know how to handle them intelligently, non-confrontationally, and uncompromisingly. Recent graduates who successfully gained admission to med school, including Burke, will be tapped for talks and advice.

Ultimately, as Dr. Kuebler notes, the way forward includes stronger conscience protections for practicing doctors as well as for med school students and applicants—especially in the incredibly sensitive OB/GYN field, which Dr. Kuebler characterized as a mine field for pro-life applicants. But also, like the Franciscan alumnus on the admissions committee mentioned above, those with authority and respect in the field of medicine need to make their voices heard to ensure that candidates are admitted based on the merits and not on biases or political agendas.

And our pro-life doctors need support and prayers, especially as the rules-writing process by unelected bureaucrats established by Obamacare continues apace.



  • Smiling Doc

    So much advice I could give! Had typed much but then ipad battery died and I lost it all.

    Anyway, things are better in a lot of ways for med school hopefuls and med students now than about 15-20 years ago when I was applying/going through. Chief plusses now:
    –pro-life view is now in the ascendancy; pro-abortion view (and advocacy) was the settled, entrenched view of the so-called smart set back then. Pro-life is becomong increasingly the popular, majority opinion in the greater culture over the past few years. This might (??)have lagged behind in academia of course, but at least it’s harder and harder for abortion proponents within medicine to view you as out of the mainstream for opposing abortion. Also, abortion’s been legal for so long now in this country that pretty much everyone has been touched by it, likely both personally and professionally and, regardless of anyone’s convictions in favor keeping abortion legal, abortion is a grim thing for everyone involved.
    –numerous great organizations to advise and support you in pursuing a medical degree now exist. Some or perhaps all existed back in my day but that was pre-internet and so they may have been to me; certainly some have grown in size, scope, and perhaps ability to help you.
    1 students for life of america, with subgroup med students for life of america
    2 american assoc of pro-life ob-gyns
    The above are not Catholic and I think are purely secular but have members of all and no denomination/are generically supportive of conscience rights of those in medicine. Would go to these 2 and the next 2 groups’ sites first – anyone in high school, college, med school, internship/residency and beyond too).
    3 Catholic Medical Assoc at (big conference in phoenix next month’ fyi); has a great sample letter one can send to one’s med school in advance of ob-gyn clerkship/rotation. Don’t send before safely ensconced in med school wiyh a couple years under your belt! Well-written assertion of conscience rights from a Catholic perspective (covers sterilization and contraception too?? Please doublcheck that but I think so.). Very importantly, does so in a respectful tone and has you convey your enthusiasm about starting the clerkship, all that you’re going to learn.
    4 Christian Medical and Dental Assoc or maybe .com. Great organization also. More focused on evangelical Christians but there’s a lot shared between them and Catholics as relates to practicing medicine in the modern day. Savvy, good-hearted people run it and has 15-20,000 members so bigger than Cath Med Assoc at present. Though wouldn’t generally have a position on sterilization or “contraceptives”, strongly opposes abortifacient morning-after pills and Ella plus anything else it recognizes as abortifacient. Members would probably oppose contraceptives for unmarried teenagers thoguh not sure if they take an official position on that. The key is, there’s a lot of overlap and this is a good organization whose website may be helpful for you to peruse.
    5 Alliance Defense Fund (or maybe it’s Foundation?) – network of lawyers all over the country who can help defend your conscience rights if they come under unfair attack/help you clarify what constitutes unfair or inappropriate attack. They’ll generally talk to you or answer an email, as I understand, without charging you…and defend you without charge if need be and if you have a decent case.

    So young grasshoppers, you’ve got it relatively good now with all the resources out there to help you now. That said, I know it isn’t easy, but you will feel proud of yourselves in the long run…probably even at the time, along with some trepidation…and fury….when you stand up not just for your rights but the rights of conscience since time immemorial.

    • Tom Crowe

      You typed all that on an iPad? Wow, that’s determination! And thanks! Good stuff!

  • Slats

    Check out all the spam-troll hatred of Tom on his first three thread comments. Chin up, brother.

    As harrowing as the consequences of the anti-conscience jihad are for us pro-lifers, one benefit of it to us is that it exposes the politically-active folk who claim to be philosophically “pro-choice” as really pro-abortion. These people are angry at the idea of there not being abortions. That’s pro-abortion. They aren’t in favor of options, but rather of their option being available, and the option favored is abortion. That’s pro-abortion. These people want there to be abortions, and lots of them. Evil evil evil. Note: I’m not necessarily saying this about most armchair folk or quiet voters. I’m talking about the people who are out in public fighting for this, raising their voices and manning the barricades. Not “pro-choice,” but rather, truthfully, pro-abortion. Caught!

    • Slats

      Wow, look who got trolled now! I hope no one who is a faithful Catholic thumbs-downed my comment. I stand by what I said, absolutely, as not some crack-pot, wild-eyed conspiracy theory sort of approach, but as true. I believe it’s true, logical, and reasonable. I’m open to correction – from faithful Catholics, not abortion proponents – on words or tone used, but I still believe the basic idea is true, and that “pro-choice” is a disingenuous dodge of what is really going on.

  • Mark

    The basis for the argument seems flawed to me. Posts by James and Nancy imply that the the profession of being a Dr. dictates the action of the individual. I think they have it backwards. Many individuals of many professions refuse to things that they consider immoral personally. This act of conscience has nothing to do with one’s ability to be a Dr. Preventing someone from entering a med school based on such a question is offensive if it is based on their thoughts about abortion. Why not just come right out and ask the question directly rather than being deceptive in your intent?

    • Fred

      This simply isn’t true at all. As a lawyer, I have to do things everyday that I find immoral and most people would agree. Not doing these things would often land me in jail.

      • Tom Crowe

        Fred— If you choose to do immoral things just to comply with the law that is your choice, but it does not make the actions moral or make it okay for there to be laws on the books that compel immoral activity.

  • Jason Phillips

    Slightly off-topic: I’m a medical student who’s Catholic and prolife (I wish those were synonymous…) and I’m really interested in OB/GYN. I’m a 3rd year and I just joined the OB/GYN club. I don’t know if you know this, but the greater OB/GYN community and academia are strongly pro-abortion, pro-contraception (see publications by ACOG) so I feel like I’m going to be a fish out of water. The club is doing a sex ed project for 7th and 8th graders in public school and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about doing this. Granted we’re only teaching the scientific aspects of sex, however contraception is also mentioned. Also, this is an opt-in program requiring parent’s consent; anyone who failed to turn in a form cannot be admitted. What bothers me is that there is an emphasis on abstinence but it says if you ARE going to have sex to use a condom and birth control EVERY TIME. When the kids go into this program about 20% say teenagers should not have sex; after the program its about 70-80%, so that’s a plus. Am I doing something wrong? I want to be involved in the OB/GYN community and be a force for change, but I also don’t want to compromise my values or identity. Thoughts?

    • DCMom

      I’m a woman who goes to a Catholic OB/GYN practice. I used to go to a non-Catholic OB/GYN. My husband and I were struggling with infertility, and one of the first questions they asked us if we wanted to have our blood tested for a potential congenital condition, to know whether the child (who we were desperately hoping to conceive) was at risk, in case we may want to consider “early termination”. To say the least, I was offended and upset by them talking about aborting a child we hadn’t even conceived! There was also a lot of discussion of in-vitro and intra-uterine insemination, which was not helpful for us. Finally, after we did have a baby, one of the first things the doctor told me was that I better get on birth control.

      I’m so relieved not to deal with all of that nonsense anymore with going to a Catholic OB/GYN. I know that the doctors at the practice have made a lot of sacrifices to do what they do. There also is a risk of conscience protections going away by legislation, which could put them out of business. The clinic has testimonies of women who are treated there following botched abortions, and those women express that they were treated with kindness and respect. I’d recommend praying about it and considering whether that is what God is calling you to do.

    • Mark

      As a Catholic you realize that evil is part of human nature, you are not going to eliminate it. In my opinion, you have an opportunity to work on a portion of the project that you can show some passion and reason – abstinence. Make a strong case for it and as your Catholic faith teaches, everything is a choice, your job is to present a case that enables others to make an educated choice.

  • Judy Ruland

    Massachusetts now trying to get physician-assisted suicide on a ballot question.

  • James

    If medical school is indeed competitive, as this article notes, I don’t see anything wrong with this question. Certainly a school has an obligation to make sure they are accepting the best candidates and the ones that will represent the school when they eventually become doctors. If a school feels uncomfortable that a future doctor would be unable or unwilling to discuss this issue with a patient and review all their available legal options, they certainly have a right to reject that candidate. If you can’t, or don’t want to do the job of a doctor, all of the job, then you shouldn’t try to become a doctor.

    • Tom Crowe

      James, whether a doctor will or will not participate in abortion is so much more than just a legal matter, I hope you recognize that. Conscience protections are enshrined in law precisely because of this. Unless you believe conscience protections should be ended, then your argument does not follow, because the schools in question are the ones that receive federal dollars, so the laws protecting those who conscientiously object to abortion cannot legally be discriminated against by the school. The school is not permitted by law to both accept federal dollars and have a vision of itself that excludes those who object to abortion. Doctors don’t intentionally kill human beings, and many of us view abortion as killing, even if it is presently legal.

      • Nancy

        You are incorrectly framing this a “participating in abortion”. The question was “what would you say to a patient seeking an abortion?”. Certainly a school would expect a candidate to be able to discuss the option of abortion as well as pro-life options in an open way with their future patients. A doctor has to be able to discuss these things with patients in a non judgmental way. If the candidate can’t do this basic job requirement, they absolutely should not become a doctor.

        • Tom Crowe

          Nancy, referring someone to an abortionist, or otherwise speaking in a manner that condones abortion as a legitimate option is morally equal to participating in the abortion. Any suggestion that pro-lifers must choose between treating abortion as a viable option or simply not become doctors is a violation of that person’s conscience rights. Abortion is not a sacrosanct procedure. If the person really wants an abortion they are more than welcome to choose another doctor, but to force pro-lifers to talk about it is a violation of their human dignity.

        • Mark

          Nancy and James, to make the assumption that the job dictates the behavior of the person is making an argument based on a false premise. People of many professions refuse to do certain tasks that they consider immoral while others are happy to do it. Doctors, like any other profession have that right and obligation to follow their conscience. This says nothing about his capability as a doctor, but loads about his character.

      • Catholic Grandma

        Being able to handle this situation in a calm manner is quite different than agreeing that you will perform an abortion under any circumstance. I think this article assumes that this question is being asked to determine who will or will not perform an abortion, when that is not the case. The question is being asked to see if the doctor can have a calm and rational discussion with a patient in the future. I am a retired physician. I am pro-life. I certainly had to discuss abortion with my patients, on more occasions than I wished were the case. However, my primary responsibility is to my patients, and going on a tirade against abortion during one of these consults certainly wouldn’t have helped anyone. I would expect even a pro-life person to be able to discuss the option of abortion with their patients in a calm manner. If a pre-med student is unable to do this, then they are unable to be a good doctor. This is a real world situation and I’m glad the question is being asked.

        • Tom Crowe

          Catholic Grandma— As I said about the one individual, he likely could have handled the situation more diplomatically, and the argument likely was a strong reason he was not admitted. Of course med schools are looking for people who can and will handle sensitive situations with grace and compassion. The contention is that med schools are ignoring whether the person can speak with compassion and calmness, and are tacitly discounting applicants simply because they are pro-life regardless of their tact. As for the later part of your comment, no Catholic should ever expect anyone who is pro-life to violate their conscience by discussing abortion as a legitimate option. Abortion is repugnant to the moral law, and is entirely, totally, completely unacceptable as an option for pregnant women. A doctor need not go on a tirade to express the reasons why the patient ought not get an abortion, indeed, the case is not well served if the doctor does not remain calm and display compassion. But this person can still be a good doctor—in fact, given the many harms to women that come from abortion (not to mention that it kills a baby person), the best doctors are the ones who *dissuade* patients from getting an abortion. If you are Catholic you really ought to agree with this.

    • Jan

      [Directed at James] I can’t believe you just said that. Would you like to present yourself to one of the “new” doctors that would have no problem euthanizing you? A doctor that has no moral code of profession that prevents him/her from determining you need to go – whatever the criteria – is not a “doctor” but an agent of politics, insurance companies, misplaced and erroneous philosophy – any thing
      but a real doctor. A real doctor has profound respect and awe for the human person, and would understand that when a pregnant woman presents herself to that doctor, there are a least two patients to be treated – the mother and the baby. A real doctor has the responsibility to help the mother accept, love and nurture the baby in her womb, not validate any notion of the mother, or anyone else, that the baby is expendable for any reason. A real doctor heals the life presented to him/her, not kill the life – that is the job of an executioner.
      So the medical schools should be looking especially for future doctors, who have the courage to do their job of healing and protecting human life.

    • Jan

      I see people are trying to crowd manipulate the like/dislike on the comments – grow up – go find some honest work to do and leave the comboxes to people who actually have something to say please.

      • Everett

        @Jan-This has been going on for a long time. People go through and dislike anything that’s pro-Catholic, and like anything that’s anti-Catholic. Apparently its something that gives them “joy”.

        • Tom Crowe

          Yeah, I usually ignore the like/dislike. Except the one time I got 64 dislikes. That one made me smile.

          • Greg Smith

            Gee Tom ~ Remember Davide’s advice to have a beer everytime ypu get a dislike. Let’s see, that’s about 10 1/2 six packs, which would have likely earned you a trip to the ER. ~ Greg

          • Tom Crowe

            HA HA HA HA HA! I didn’t see where Davide said that, but that makes me smile even more! But if that’s the practice we’re going with, I better get started. It *is* Friday afternoon, afterall!

          • Everett

            @Greg – I fully support this advice, and will need to take advantage of this at the next opportunity.



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