University of Alabama returns largest donation in school history after donor criticized abortion ban


The University of Alabama has returned a $21.5 million donation to a donor who spoke out for the need to protect access to abortion.

Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr., a real estate investor and lawyer who was born and raised in Alabama but now lives in Miami, urged students and businesses to boycott the state over its near total abortion ban.

On Friday, The University of Alabama System board of trustees voted to return the largest donation in the school’s history and remove Culverhouse’s name from the law school.

Alabama has enacted the strictest abortion law in the country, banning the procedure unless there is a “serious health risk” to the pregnant person. The law considers abortion a Class A felony, and doctors providing the procedure can be punished with up to 99 years in prison. (The law is set to take effect in November, but expected to be blocked in court before then.)

Last September, Culverhouse, whose father was owner of the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, committed to donating $26.5 million to the school over the next four years. The university then renamed its law school to Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law.

The school said Friday that it is returning the $21.5 million donated so far, but is rejecting that it has to do with politics.

As NPR reported, the school said Culverhouse had previously requested the return of $10 million and made demands about how his donation should be spent.

“The action taken by the Board today was a direct result of Mr. Culverhouse’s ongoing attempts to interfere in the operations of the Law School,” Kellee Reinhart, the university’s vice chancellor for communication, said in a statement Friday. “That was the only reason the Board voted to remove his name and return his money.”

Culverhouse said he had not asked for his donation back from the school in a statement on Friday.

When Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the bill into law last month, Culverouse said he could not stand by and watch.

His attorney, Lawrence Kellogg, was quoted by Florida Politics as saying that a boycott could work. “Sixty-six percent of the students at Alabama pay out-of-state tuition,” he said. “A boycott by them could certainly be effective. Hugh also strongly believes that out-of-state and international businesses should not be doing business in a state that discriminates against women.”

In an op-ed for The Washington Post on Friday, Culverhouse said he was disappointed in the school’s decision and believed its actions were due to his position on abortion.

“It has been painful to witness administrators at the university choose zealotry over the well-being of its own students, but it’s another example of the damage this attack on abortion rights will do to Alabama,” he wrote. “The bill will not survive a court challenge, and likely will cost the state a great deal in court fees and other expenses that could be used to help its citizens. But for those who support it, that collateral damage doesn’t even merit a passing thought. Total victory must be achieved, even if it means running roughshod over people’s rights and harming students.”

Anti-choice activists and legislators throughout the country are pushing for extreme abortion bans in order to trigger legal challenges that could force the Supreme Court, with its new conservative majority, to reconsider it’s 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. 

State Rep. Terri Collins (R), who sponsored the Alabama bill, admitted as much when he explained why the law does not make exceptions for rape or incest.

“My point on keeping an amendment about rape or incest out of this bill is that Roe v. Wade does not mention that issue and I want this bill to focus on the reasoning used in the Roe v. Wade decision, ‘Is the baby in the womb a person?’ Any amendment would contradict that point.”

In 2019, nine states have passed bills limiting access to abortion.

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