WASHINGTON (CNS) — Elective abortions will no longer be covered in the health insurance plans of two Catholic universities in California.
Officials at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles announced the change in coverage in early October, saying that the decisions were in line with Catholic teaching and the institutions’ religious identity.
The change affects insurance coverage provided to faculty and staff at the schools.
A 1999 California law required employers, including religious higher education institutions, to cover elective abortion if they offered pharmaceutical coverage in their health care plans. A lawsuit filed by the California Catholic Conference failed to overturn the law.
However, the institutions said they recently learned that they could restructure their insurance plans beginning Jan. 1 to be fully compliant with federal and state laws while holding true to Catholic values.
Marc Brown, spokesman for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, one of the insurance carriers for both schools confirmed that the company reviewed its coverage options at the request of several employers. He explained to Catholic News Service Oct. 17 that the company determined it could separate coverage and billing for elective abortions from other health care provisions.
Even with the announced change, the schools’ insurance plans will continue to cover therapeutic abortions, contraception and other forms of reproductive health care mandated by the state.
The institutions said that their decisions do not stem from requirements under the Affordable Care Act. While the law exempts religious employers from abortion coverage in health care plans it requires most employers cover contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such coverage.
At Santa Clara, Jesuit Father Michael E. Engh, the president, informed the university’s 1,600 employees of the change in a letter Oct. 3 and promised to give employees the opportunity to discuss it.
“Our commitments as a Catholic university are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion coverage in the university’s health plans,” Father Engh wrote.
Celeste Durant, director of communications and media relations at Loyola Marymount, told CNS that it was only recently that university officials learned that elective abortions could be excluded from coverage.
“We had always been told that this was not possible,” she said.
Trustees at Loyola Marymount voted to drop elective abortion coverage Oct. 7. The vote followed an Aug. 15 letter from David W. Burcham, president, and Kathleen Hannon Aikenhead, who chairs the board of trustees that informed employees that such a change was in the offing for 2014.
“The decision to exclude this coverage, one it became possible, flows directly from our values as a Catholic university in the Jesuit/Marymount traditions,” their letter said.
Santa Clara convened two meetings Oct. 15 and 16 on the topic for faculty and staff, said Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara and one of three staff members who organized the meetings at Father Engh’s request. More than 80 people attended each session, he said.
Hanson told CNS Oct. 17 that Father Engh unilaterally decided on the change to take advantage of an open enrollment period for health care coverage beginning in November. The decision itself and the fact it was reached without consulting faculty and staff was foremost in the employees’ concerns during the meetings, Hanson said.
“Most of the speakers opposed the decision. It was an opportunity to hear reactions to both the process of making the decision and the substance of the decision,” Hanson said.
“It was a very calm expression of people’s views. It was very constructive. There was clearly a lot of disagreement about the process.”
Faculty and staff were invited to offer additional comments through Oct. 21 after which the three conveners were to offer recommendations to Father Engh on handling such a situation in the future.
Some Santa Clara faculty and staff protested the decision and gathered outside of the venue of the two meetings. Through Oct. 16, about 500 employees had signed an online petition asking Father Engh to rescind the decision, according to news reports.
St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga said in an online statement that it was reviewing its health insurance plan in light of the action by the other institutions.