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University evaluates abortion coverage

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Tyler Barnett | Loyolan


LMU administration is considering excluding elective abortion care from all of its health benefits packages, according to Board of Trustees Chair Kathleen Hannon Aikenhead and President David W. Burcham. According to their letter, sent to faculty and staff in August, this change will be “thoroughly discussed” at the Board of Trustees meeting on October 7.

Of LMU’s two health care providers, Anthem dropped its elective abortion coverage in January 2013, while Kaiser currently still offers elective abortion care in its health benefits package, according to Aikenhead and Burcham’s letter.

Multiple factors triggered the reopening of this issue including the approaching implementation of the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare,” and professor of philosophy James Hanink’s inquiry to The Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic organization dedicated to “promoting and defending faithful Catholic education,” according to its website.

“From time to time over the past 30 years, LMU has inquired whether elective abortions could be dropped from our employer-provided health care coverage,” Burcham said in a statement to the Loyolan. “We renewed the inquiries late last year because of the approaching implementation of the new health care law.”

The Cardinal Newman Society reported that LMU dropped its abortion coverage after Hanink brought it to both the Society and the University’s attention in an article published by the Society in August.

“Loyola Marymount University (LMU) has told The Cardinal Newman Society that it will drop its employee insurance coverage of abortion but retain its coverage of contraceptives, following protests from a faithful Catholic professor and just prior to publication of a Newman Society report revealing LMU’s benefits plan,” the article stated.

However, Burcham confirmed that a formal decision has not yet been made and has invited faculty and staff to “send written comments on the issue for review by the Board,” according to his statement.

Professor of philosophy and author of “The Ethics of Abortion” Christopher Kaczor said that he was surprised to find out that LMU was covering elective abortions, as he doesn’t know of any other Catholic institutions that do.

Rector of the Jesuit Community Fr. Jerry Cobb, S.J. said that he supports Burcham and the Board of Trustees as they will “unite and motivate the campus community through this discussion.”

“Catholicism deeply values human life at every stage of development, from conception through the college years all the way to a natural death,” he said. “LMU’s policies reflect that commitment.”

In a letter to the Faculty Senate, Director of the Bioethics Institute and professor of theological studies Roberto Dell’Oro said that “a middle ground must be reached that is not just a moral compromise, but an expression of the commitment to the values we cherish as a Jesuit University.”

The middle ground he proposed is a ‘rider’ option, which would allow LMU health care providers to permit individuals to choose elective abortion coverage without automatically providing the coverage to the whole University.

Many faculty members expressed their concerns about dropping elective abortion coverage.

“We must have some difficult discussions about where we do and where we don’t reflect a commitment to life and justice on our very campus,” said Tracy Tiemeier, an associate professor of theological studies, in her letter to the Loyolan. “For example, if we support Catholic teaching on the dignity of life, as we claim, why is there no women’s resource center, rape crisis center or even pregnancy support center?”

Staff Senate President Nicholas Mattos expressed his concerns via email to the Loyolan about staff members being overlooked when making this decision.

“Regardless of how I may feel about elective abortions, I am concerned that staff members were not initially asked to respond to this issue,” he said.

Associate professor of sociology Anna Muraco discussed several of her concerns with the Loyolan via email including her view that dropping abortion coverage is an injustice due to the financial strain and pressure it puts on non-tenured faculty.

“With this change in health care coverage and in the manner it was conducted, LMU has given mixed signals about what is ‘appropriate’ at this Catholic institution,” she said. “I have heard from more than one pre-tenure faculty member … that they no longer feel safe to do their jobs.”

Echoing Muraco’s claim, associate professor of theological studies Anna Harrison said she fears that this situation has caused a “chilling effect.”

“It’s a matter of such enormous sensitivity that I have to say that I do strongly believe it must be finally the decision of the girl or the woman,” she said. “I don’t have to agree with her decision, but I do not feel that I am in a position to make that decision for her.”

In contrast, Hanink referred to the issue as a different kind of social justice, one that, in his opinion, is about the justice of the unborn child.

“There have been 55 million abortions since Roe v. Wade,” he said. “That shouldn’t be something people occasionally think about.”

Kaczor, the professor of philosophy who authored “The Ethics of Abortion,” put it simply, calling abortion “intentional killing.”

“We have a responsibility as a Catholic entity to promote justice,” he said. “I’m proud of President (Burcham) for his efforts.”

In an unscientific poll of 67 students conducted by the Loyolan through Facebook, 55 percent of students agreed with Hanink and Kaczor that LMU should not include elective abortion coverage for faculty and staff. Many of the responses on the poll included concerns that covering elective abortions is against Catholic and Jesuit values.

A Faculty Senate meeting has been scheduled this Friday to discuss the issues surrounding this change in benefits.

“As always, I remain committed to working with the Faculty and Staff Senates and consulting the wider community on important issues as we move forward,” Burcham said.

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Tyler Barnett | Loyolan