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Another Jesuit University Drops Abortion Coverage; Some Faculty Outraged

Frank Farm

Matthew Archbold - published on 10/17/13

On the heels of Loyola Marymount University's decision to drop abortion coverage, Santa Clara University has elected to do the same with some ensuing outrage from faculty.

Santa Clara University’s (SCU) president has announced that the college is dropping elective abortions from its health insurance coverage.

President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J., announced the news in a two-page letter, which was sent to university employees and said, in part, that "our core commitments as a Catholic university are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion coverage in the university’s health plans.”  As was witnessed in a recent, similar decision by Loyola Marymount University—also run by the Jesuits—this policy change generated indignation and outrage by the more liberal-leaning faculty and staff members.

"This really makes Santa Clara University’s express commitment to openness, diversity and inclusiveness ring hollow," said history professor Nancy Unger, according to The Mercury News. "This is not the Santa Clara University that I have loved and been proud to serve.”

Mary Hegland, a SCU professor of anthropology, was quoted by The Mercury News as stating, "The male Jesuits running Santa Clara University feel they know what God wants regarding women, women’s bodies and women’s reproduction.

“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,” Hegland continued.“If the SCU male Jesuit administration really felt ‘sensitivity towards women,’ (quoting the letter from Engh) they would not have made this decision."

At least one professor provided support for the change. Professor John Hawley, chairman of the English Department, told The Mercury News that while Santa Clara University, “…studies all sort of ideas, not just those of the Roman Catholic Church,” he believes on some ethical issues, “[The university] needs to take a particular stand lest it be seen as anti-Catholic.  And this is one of them."

Fr. Engh announced that there would be a series of open forums announced in the near future to discuss this issue. They would be coordinated by the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department.

This closely mirrors the decision two months ago by Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to do the same. That decision sparked loud protests from some faculty and staff, and culminated last week with the board of trustees dropping abortion coverage, but establishing an insurance plan that would provide abortion coverage that could be purchased directly by the employee and not the university.

The Rev. Jim Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College, told CBS San Francisco, “An elective abortion is a serious moral evil, and if it’s in our power to end that on whatever level we can operate, we should do our best to end that moral evil.”

David Burcham, president of Loyola Marymount University, was quoted in the student newspaper, The Loyolan, saying that he believes this issue is widespread. “There’s not a Jesuit university in the entire country that won’t have to confront an issue like this – or hasn’t already confronted an issue like this,” Burcham said. “I don’t think it signifies anything other than that we have had this issue to deal with and done it in the most constructive way that we could.”

Originally published by The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Daily on 16 October 2013.

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