California Expands Abortion Access, While Two Universities Curtail Insurance Coverage

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Even as Governor Jerry Brown was signing two pieces of legislation this week to increase access to abortion, two California universities were taking steps to restrict its coverage under employee insurance.

Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and Santa Clara University (SCU) announced they would not include coverage for elective abortions in insurance policies made available to staff and faculty. Both decisions were greeted with dismay by many on campus, especially at Santa Clara, where the announcement by university President Michael Engh seemed to take faculty members by surprise.

“The male Jesuits running Santa Clara University feel they know what God wants regarding women, women's bodies and women's reproduction,” professor of anthropology Mary Hegland told the San Jose Mercury News. “We have many women working at SCU who are not Catholic or—even if Catholic—do not believe that abortion is against God's will.”

There had been little discussion of the move beforehand.

LMU, on the other hand, had engaged in weeks of campus-wide debate at the Los Angeles school, culminating in a vote Monday by the board of trustees. LMU’s decision offered employees a small concession that may prove to be inconsequential. It will offer a separate, more expensive insurance policy to those who want the coverage included.

Santa Clara is not offering that option to its employees. Engh, a Jesuit priest, wrote in a letter to the 1,600 employees that “our core commitments as a Catholic university are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion coverage in the University's health plans.” He announced that the school would conduct a series of forums to discuss the issue in the coming weeks, which left some wondering why an institution devoted to openness, diversity and shared governance would elect to discuss important matters after a decision had already been made.

Both Jesuit institutions are reversing their previous inclusive insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, Governor Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, signed Assembly Bill 154 on Wednesday, allowing nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants with special training to perform abortions under certain conditions.

Brown also signed Assembly Bill 980, which orders the repeal of any section of the state building code that doesn’t treat clinics that perform abortions as any other primary-care clinic. The bill is aimed at one section in particular that says clinics performing abortions must have an extra recovery area, a larger treatment room and a separate room for counseling.

The decisions came as California bucked a nationwide trend toward more restrictive abortion laws. Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights research group, told Josh Richman at the Mercury News that 68 abortion restrictions have been put in place this year across the country.

“California is moving in a different direction,” she said.

But apparently not everyone is along for the ride.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Loyola Marymount Navigates Campus Divide on Providing Abortion Medical Coverage (by Donna Littlejohn, The Daily Breeze)

Santa Clara University President Triggers Abortion Uproar (by Tracy Seipel and Josh Richman, San Jose Mercury News)

Bills Increasing Abortion Access Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (by Josh Richman, San Jose Mercury News)

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