Calif. University to Decide on Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Plans, Faculty Divided

Loyola Marymount University [LMU], a Jesuit college in Los Angeles, Calif., will vote Monday on whether to continue providing elective abortion coverage on the health insurance plans of faculty and staff. The issue has created a deep schism at the university between faculty members who wish to not alienate their non-Christian students, and those wishing to stay true to the university's religious credo.

Loyola Marymount's Board of Trustees Chair Kathleen Hannon Aikenhead and President David W. Burcham sent a letter to all faculty and staff back in August announcing plans to "thoroughly discuss" the elective abortion coverage option on their health insurance on October 7. Additionally, Burcham told The Los Angeles Loyolan that the school had renewed its inquiries regarding abortion insurance coverage late last year in preparation of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

In the weeks leading up to Monday's Board of Trustees meeting, professors and others on campus have become involved in a heated debate regarding abortion coverage at the university. Although one of LMU's healthcare providers, Anthem, dropped its abortion coverage option early in 2013, the other provider, Kaiser, reportedly still offers the option.

Those arguing against the university providing elective abortion coverage argue that the college needs to stay true to its religious roots and not give in to public pressure. The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic group that credits itself to sparking the debate of abortion coverage on the LMU campus after receiving an inquiry from the university's philosophy professor on the issue, recently released a statement arguing that the parents sending their children to LMU have a right to know where the university's theology professors stand on the issue.

"Catholic families have a right to know that theology professors at a Catholic university are out of step with the Church and have been advocating University benefits for abortion," the group said in a statement.

The Catholic group also encouraged the university's professors to continue publicly discussing the issue. Some members of the Catholic community had previously criticized LMU professors who publicly voiced their support of the abortion coverage.

"Why should any university fear the truth? If objectively reporting the public statements and writings of Loyola Marymount's professors is embarrassing or even intimidating, then perhaps the statements ought not have been made in the first place," the group said.

Others, including Laurie Levenson, a professor at LMU's law school, argue that dropping the university's abortion coverage option would possibly change LMU's image as an "inclusive university" and drive away students and faculty not aligned with strict Jesuit teaching.

"Loyola Marymount has always represented tolerance, diversity and a welcoming atmosphere where we can exchange ideas openly," Levenson told the NY Times in a recent interview.

"If this represents a shift in what it means for Loyola to be a Catholic university, and being a Catholic university now means exclusion, I think Loyola would lose something very special. It could dramatically change who's attracted to the university and what faculty want to be involved," she added.

As the university's faculty and staff prepare to hear the decision reached Monday by the Board of Trustees, LMU president David Burcham wrote an email last week discouraging faculty and staff from engaging in intimidation tactics on the issue, as the debate has become so intensely heated on the Los Angeles campus.

"I want to underscore in the strongest language possible the rights of our faculty to pursue academic research wherever it may lead, and to express their own opinions, whether by signing letters, petitions or newspaper ads. That is the basis of academic freedom and is a concept at the very heart of what we do at LMU [...] We have no room here for intellectual bullying or intimidation, whether the source be internal or external," Burcham said.

Late last month, nearly 80 faculty members signed a petition printed in the LA Loyolan encouraging the school to keep its abortion coverage option.

Hot-button issues such as abortion and pre-marital sex have often met great resistance at Catholic universities in the United States. At the University of Notre Dame in 2009, students were arrested after protesting President Barack Obama's commencement speech at the college in South Bend, Indiana due to his previously-stated support of abortion. Earlier in 2013, Catholic universities across the U.S. rallied around Boston College, a Jesuit school, after it banned a student group from distributing condoms on campus.

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