After three years of nearly constant Sturm und Drang on the part of U.S. bishops over the contraception mandate comes word that some of the same Catholic universities have been covering abortions all along. Loyola Marymount’s insurance plan, as its president recently confirmed, has included elective abortion coverage for the past 25 years.
The revelation comes with the news that the California Department of Health and Human Services has reversed itself and rescinded permission for two Catholic universities in California to remove elective abortion coverage from their employee insurance plans. It turns out that even as the bishops have been screaming that any attempt to force Catholic-affiliated organizations to cover contraception would be a heinous insult to Catholicism, Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara Universities have been covering abortions—including elective abortions—as California law requires coverage of all “medically necessary” services.
While a number of states have moved to ban private insurers from covering some or all abortions, California has both statutory and constitutional protections for abortion access which, according to the state Department of Managed Health Care, means that health plans must treat “legal abortion neutrally” and may not place any exclusions or limitations on coverage for the service.
Last year, both universities sought permission from the state to remove elective abortion coverage. The state initially granted the universities permission, but reversed itself after knowledge of the exclusions became public.
Even the move to remove elective abortion coverage and continue to cover medically necessary abortions would leave the plans well outside Catholic teaching and the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which ban abortion in any and all circumstances, even to save a woman’s life.
The irony is that while the bishops have been arguing that Catholic-affiliated organizations can’t even “cooperate” with birth control by being one or two steps away from a process in which they had only a tangential role (with universities like Notre Dame filing lawsuits opposing the so-called accommodation), these two Catholic universities have been directly covering abortions in their health plans, which in terms of Catholic moral theology is considered formal cooperation with evil and never allowed.
And when employees at Loyola Marymount complained about the change in coverage, the university made elective abortion coverage available to those who wanted to purchase it from a third-party administrator, which is similar to the mechanism that the bishops have said universities can’t even use for birth control.
Despite the Catholic bishops’ high-profile role in opposing the contraception mandate and the various permutations of accommodation for religious institutions, the Vatican has no direct control over Catholic universities, with the exception of Catholic University in Washington, DC, which is a pontifical university accredited by the Holy See.
However, Catholic universities have been coming under increasing pressure from conservative reform groups who would like to see their policies be more reflective of Catholic teaching and Pope John Paul II’s 1990 Ex Corde Ecclesiae, an apostolic constitution that sought to more clearly define the relationship between the Vatican and universities claiming Catholic affiliation.
The move to require the universities to maintain abortion coverage is being opposed Renew LMU, a reform group that seeks to “strengthen LMU’s Catholic identity,” and the Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative public interest law firm that represented Conestoga Wood in its successful challenge with Hobby Lobby to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
Loyola Marymount President David Burcham, who has been criticized by Renew LMU as the first non-Catholic head of the university, noted, however, that it had covered abortion for 25 years. He said he expects its insurers “will comply fully with the law and offer us policies that are in full compliance.” Burcham told the Los Angeles Loyolan that the university 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.”