California Catholic university eliminates abortion coverage, faculty cry foul


While abortion is expanding in California, it seems that Catholics are taking their stand. Perched in the middle of the ObamaCare controversy over abortion, employer mandates, and conscience rights are Catholic-affiliated institutions. Santa Clara University (SCU) is the center of focus, as the university announced that it would drop elective abortion coverage from employee health plans. While some argue that this is a natural move for a Catholic-affiliated institution, many others are crying foul in the state that recently expanded abortion.

The San Jose Mercury News reports on the action:

University President Michael Engh, a Jesuit priest, said in a two-page letter dated last Thursday and sent to 1,600 employees that the university carefully studied how the school can structure its medical insurance plans in 2014 to be compliant with federal and California laws and regulations while representing its values as a Jesuit university. The university concluded that ‘our core commitments as a Catholic university are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion coverage in the University’s health plans,’ he stated in the letter.

Coming on the heels of fellow California Catholic university Loyola Marymount, which made a similar decision to drop abortion coverage but offer a separate policy for those who wanted it (SCU is not offering such an option), SCU’s decision has many faculty members in an uproar to the effect that the school’s decision is a violation of the shared governance principles of the university.

As the San Jose paper reports, “ironically, the controversy came to a boil on the same day that California Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, went off in a different direction by signing two bills aimed at increasing access to abortion in California.”

But increased abortion access for all California women isn’t enough for some faculty.

One professor, Nancy Unger, told the San Jose Mercury News that she is Catholic but disagrees with the decision:

This really makes Santa Clara University’s express commitment to openness, diversity and inclusiveness ring hollow.

The paper added that “Unger said that the university prides itself on ‘shared governance’ and that Engh’s action is an egregious violation to that commitment because he did not alert faculty and staff that he was even considering the issue.”

The San Jose Mercury News also writes:

Mary Hegland, a SCU professor of anthropology, said she doesn’t ‘love abortion,’ but that ‘the male Jesuits running Santa Clara University feel they know what God wants regarding women, women’s bodies and women’s reproduction.’

The issue at hand, however, must include the mission of an organization. SCU’s mission statement says:

The University pursues its vision by creating an academic community that educates the whole person within the Jesuit, Catholic tradition, making student learning our central focus, continuously improving our curriculum and co-curriculum, strengthening our scholarship and creative work, and serving the communities of which we are a part in Silicon Valley and around the world.

The Huffington Post reports that “the move [from SCU] appears to be part of a trend among Catholic campuses seeking to uphold their religious beliefs[.]” Forced into a decision by the health care mandate, it’s likely that more religious affiliated institutions nationwide will have to make decisions proactively based on their values.

Shared governance in relation to workload or conditions is something most encourage and desire, whether or not it’s present. However, assertions that eliminating coverage for an elective medical procedure is somehow violating the rights of employees and being discriminatory against women is incorrect, because the university is openly and decidedly Catholic in its mission, vision, and values.

While a Catholic institution may hire those from any religious background, and while universities often seek diversity among faculty religious views to offer students a more liberal education – in a classical sense – it does not cease being Catholic in its motivations for institution-wide decisions. If the university made any other decision about what the Catholic Church itself considers one of the greatest moral evils, then it would not be functioning according to its mission.

The question, then, is, if a school has a religious affiliation, when does it lay its convictions down in the name of inclusion? No woman has been threatened with firing for having an abortion. Instead, the university has simply said, in upholding its Catholic views, that it will not provide abortion coverage in a health insurance policy.

To do otherwise would be decidedly un-Catholic.

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