Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has reversed an earlier decision which allowed LMU and Santa Clara University to eliminate coverage of elective abortions in their employee insurance plans, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle last Friday.
According to the article, Brown’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) stated that, “the exclusions violate a 1975 state law that requires group health plans to cover all basic services - defined, by the law, as those that are ‘medically necessary.’” They will be sending letters to insurers at both LMU and Santa Clara detailing the violation.
In an email sent to faculty and staff last Friday, Vice President for Human Resources Rebecca Chandler said that the University is aware of the action being taken by the DMHC and is currently awaiting a response from
LMU’s insurance providers – Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente.
The email from Chandler also informed faculty and staff that “Once we learn from our insurers what this reported new decision means in terms of making sure that the University’s current policies comply with the law, we’ll let you know.” As of Aug. 27, Chandler confirmed that the University was still waiting to hear back from the insurance providers.
According to University President David W. Burcham, LMU expects its insurers “will comply fully with the law and offer us policies that are in full compliance.”
The decision by the DMHC has drawn criticism from some external Catholic groups. David Luke (’93), co-founder of the alumni group Renew LMU, told the Catholic News Agency on Aug. 26 that “California Catholics are no longer safe to practice their faith within their own institutions. Gov. Brown’s decision demonstrates that, in California, tolerance does not extend to people of faith and moral conscience.”
Additionally, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal religious liberty advocacy group, and the Life Legal Defense Foundation have written and submitted a letter of objection. The letter argues that the action is a “clear violation” of the federal Weldon Amendment, which declares that states which accept federal funds may not discriminate against institutions and health care entities that do not provide coverage of abortion.
Conversely, associate sociology professor Anna Muraco praised the action of the DMHC. “I feel as if this is the right move, this is the right way to allow women to make decisions about their own reproductive care,” she said.
The initial exclusion of elective aborition coverage, Muraco explained, concerned her as it “signaled to women that they weren’t trusted enough to make decisions about their own reproductive life. And I thought that set a dangerous precedent, not just [for] staff but women who are students here,”
Similarly, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times called the decision “a women’s rights victory,” explaining in an Aug. 25 article that “the move by the Department of Managed Health Care is one of the strongest statements in favor of women’s reproductive health rights you’re likely to hear from officials of any state, at a time when those rights are under systematic attack.”
As with the debate that sprung up last year following LMU’s decision to cut elective abortion coverage from its faculty and staff healthcare plans after a Board of Trustees vote on Oct. 7, 2013, this news has once again resulted in very split opinions.
“This is a complicated topic so one way to address it would be to try and facilitate conversation where people are being treated respectfully and there is an understanding that this being less about ideology … and more about the ability for women and their families to make concerted choices about how they want their professional and personal lives to go,” Muraco said.
For philosophy professor James Hanink, the divisive nature of the issue is not something to avoid but rather to embrace. “If there are issues of significance that aren’t divisive I’ve never heard of them, so let’s be divisive and let’s do the division in the right sort of way,” he said.
Burcham, who announced last year at the President’s Convocation that the University, would focus on engaging in campus-wide conversations on Catholic identity as a result of the controversy over the decision to exclude abortion from the insurance, believes continuing dialogue is key.
Burcham noted that LMU is “not a parish, we’re not a seminary, we’re not a convent – we’re a university that many years ago decided that we would be diverse in every way.” Burcham acknowledged that there is a tension between this part of LMU’s identity and our tradition as a Catholic, Jesuit Marymount university.
“The healthcare issue raised it in a way that is dramatic, but that tension is something we need to embrace. We need to allow creative dialogue to occur,” he said.
Hanink is skeptical about the effectiveness of on-campus efforts towards dialogue explaining that, “I don’t think that can happen in any organized way on campus because I don’t think the leadership is intellectually prepared and I don’t think it has the moral resolve,” he said.
In response, Burcham pointed out that “For 25 years, until last year, this University has covered all abortion. Last year, our insurance providers told us for the first time, with the approval of the DHMC, that they could separate out abortion. To suggest that the administration and the Board of Trustees, who did separate it out, lacked moral resolve, I just simply disagree with [that].”
Burcham noted that LMU’s decision to also allow those employees who wished to purchase abortion coverage at an additional cost through a private administrator was a “creative” solution that upset a lot of people, but was nevertheless an effort to “hold fast to this very deeply embedded moral principle that abortion is evil and at the same time recognize that we have a lot of faculty and staff here who perhaps are not Catholic and who don’t have such strong beliefs on that subject.”
Although this is an issue that may divide the campus, Burcham highlighted the fact that, “One of the real contributions a Catholic university can make is tearing down walls that divide. Some of those walls are religious based, others are based on other types of polarizing influences. But I think one of the things we can do, as a Catholic university, is first making sure that, as the great hymn says, ‘all are welcome.’ All feel welcome, no matter their background.”