California Jesuit Schools Cut Elective Abortion Coverage
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 02:10
Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University, two Jesuit schools in California, ended faculty healthcare coverage for elective abortion this month.
When these changes take effect in 2014, therapeutic abortions and access to contraception will continue to be covered while a third-party plan still covers elective abortions.
Loyola Marymount dropped elective abortion coverage in 1988, but according to the National Catholic Register, the coverage somehow reentered the university’s healthcare plan between 1988 and 2013 without public discussion.
“We believe that the right to life and dignity for every human being is a fundamental part of Catholic beliefs … and that this vision needs to be evidenced in LMU’s policies and procedures,” LMU President David Burcham and Chair of the Board Kathleen Aikenhead wrote in a letter to faculty members.
But while the Loyola Marymount decision was made by a board of trustees vote, Santa Clara University’s new plan was announced by SCU President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J., in a letter to faculty and staff, which has triggered criticism from SCU faculty members.
“It was a complete shock,” SCU School of Law professor Stephen Diamond told The Hoya. “The decision by the president was unilateral and without consultation from faculty. We weren’t given the courtesy of notice or even the chance to comment in advance. There was simply no due process whatsoever.”
Mary Hegland, an SCU professor, disagreed with Engh’s decision.
“The male Jesuits running Santa Clara University feel they know what God wants regarding women, women’s bodies and women’s reproduction,” Hegland told the San Jose Mercury News. “We have many women working at SCU who are not Catholic or — even if Catholic — do not believe that abortion is against God’s will.”
Although Engh announced that there would be a series of open forums discussing the decision, faculty members questioned why the forums are being held after the decision was already made.
“I viewed the forum as a kind of phony, Cuban-style form of democracy — that is you make the decision, and then we get to vote,” Diamond said. “It doesn’t even appear that the trustees got to vote.”
In response, Diamond resigned his post as a university ethics scholar, although he continues his work as a tenured law school professor.
“I assumed that the commitment that was made to me when I was hired — that the institution was not going to become essentially a seminary — was genuine,” Diamond said. “I sensed a genuine commitment to human rights and women’s rights and diversity, and now it looks like there’s a shift underway. I think they owe [professors] a public statement on where they’re taking or where they’re attempting to take the institution.”
As of press time, 636 people have signed a Change.org petition to overturn the SCU decision.
“We, the undersigned members of the Santa Clara University community, request a prompt and meaningful opportunity to appeal the university’s decision to reduce essential reproductive health care coverage provided by its health insurance plans,” the petition reads. “As community members committed to difficult dialogues about how best to achieve a fair, diverse, and inclusive environment, we are gravely concerned that such an important health care decision was made without consulting representatives of the people who will be adversely affected by this precipitous change.”
According to the official summaries of benefits from Georgetown’s various faculty and staff insurance plans, Georgetown’s current faculty and staff benefits do not cover elective abortions, with no exceptions. Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., declined to comment.
GU Right to Life Treasurer Kelly Thomas (SFS ’15) agreed with the universities’ decisions, expressing surprise that either had originally covered elective abortions.
“It’s a little mind-boggling that they allowed it in the first place,” Thomas said.
H*yas for Choice Vice President Abby Grace (SFS ’16) disagreed with the decision.
“What type of faculty are you going to attract if you’re going to say, ‘Sorry, because of our religious identity, we’re not allowing you choices about your body and your life?’” Grace said.
To Thomas, however, that sacrifice is worth making.
“I wouldn’t say that more diversity amongst beliefs of professors is worth compromising and worth allowing this sort of attack on human life to continue,” Thomas said. “I certainly enjoy diversity among my professors but it’s kind of like saying, ‘If you pay us a little bit more for it, we’ll do what’s morally reprehensible.’”
Grace, however, emphasized that faculty perspectives do not need to align perfectly with that of the university.
“I don’t think anyone asked Loyola Marymount to endorse abortion,” Grace said. “I think they just asked them to recognize that their faculty has different beliefs than them, and it’s certainly sad to see that they chose not to do that.”