Last week, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) President, David Burcham, announced that LMU's Board would no longer subsidize elective abortions as part of the institution's healthcare insurance benefit. Burcham cited LMU's Catholic identity as motivating the Board's decision.
However, Burcham also offered an olive branch which he may have thought would calm the stormy petrils: The option of a third-party insurance provider faculty and staff could pay that would provide the coverage.
Burcham surely had to expect some blowback, especially from LMU theologian Anna Harrison, a vocal leader in the faculty's efforts to continue insurance coverage for elective abortions.
Professor Harrison doesn't believe that funding abortions through LMU's healthcare plan conflicts with the institution's Catholic identity. Instead, she believes, the Board's decision represents LMU's general attitude toward women. In a letter Harrison wrote to The Argonaut, a local newspaper published for residents of Los Angeles' Westside, the theologian at a Catholic university argued what one would expect, namely, not that the Church has rightly defined abortion as the moral evil it is but that the Jesuit (read "male" and "patriarchal") institution is "dismissive" of women’s intellects:
I am joined by many staff and faculty in regarding the decision to
exclude so-called elective abortion from insurance coverage as
frankly dismissive of women’s and girls’ experiences—and of their
intellects. I will defend the right of my colleagues and their daughters
to have coverage for abortions that they--not their doctor, not their
When we talk about Catholic identity, with whom are we willing to
engage in conversation? I hope we are willing to speak with the
women of LMU, who will disagree among themselves and sometimes
fiercely about the morality of abortion—why shouldn’t they? Our
varied voices must surely count for something.
Professor Harrison goes on to argue that those who have "framed" the argument have done so premised upon what she believes is a false assumption, namely, there is one Catholic position concerning abortion. Those who hold this false assumption are excluding from the discourse those who believe there is more than one Catholic position concerning abortion:
The question of abortion coverage is not, as some have framed it,
one of balancing Loyola Marymount University’s Catholic identity
with its commitment to plurality and diversity of moral and religious
sensibilities. This is, in part, exactly because there is no one "Catholic
position" on abortion—not unless we are willing to conflate Catholicism
with the teaching of modern bishops.
On this count, The Motley Monk would note the simple fact that there is "one" Catholic position on abortion. It is not a "modern" teaching but traces its origins back to the first Christian century, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes explicit:
Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of
every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains
unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either
as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: "You shall
not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to
perish." God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission
of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of
themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the
moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable
Harrison surely knows the Catechism provides "a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine," which no bishop, bishops' conference, or Catholic theologian may contradict and call it "Catholic" teaching. That is not to "conflate" the terms Catholic and Catholicism, except in the minds of those who believe that Catholicism represents a patriarchal, anti-modern, and anti-democratic ideology.
Harrison is certainly a democrat, believing that "numbers"—even if those numbers are miniscule—make "right." For example, Harrison cites statistics from the Guttmacher Institute indicating that approximately 22/1,000 U.S. Catholic women have had an abortion. That is a sad fact. Moreover, the statistics also indicate that Catholic women are more likely than Protestant women to have an abortion. Arguably, this also is a very sad fact. Perhaps these facts indicate a failure of catechesis on the part of bishops, bishops conferences and, yes, theologians, during the past several decades. Yet, it just or even primarily a "failure of catechesis"? The women surely know the Church's teaching concerning abortion, or at least its opposition, but nevertheless choose to have them and actively dissent from the Church's teaching.
So, if partriarchy, false assumptions, an anti-modern and anti-democratic ideology, and statistics aren't enough to demonstrate that there is no singular Catholic position concerning abortion, how then about the primacy of conscience? As Professor Harrison notes:
If abortion coverage is declared “off limits” on the grounds that we
are a Catholic university, LMU will have failed this test, declaring a
preemptory role over the conscience of its employees. Having done
so, our university will have conceded that when it really matters,
plurality and diversity do not really matter.
Upholding LMU's commitment to plurality and diversity of moral and religious sensibilities to achieve her goal of insurance coverage for elective abortions is Harrison's main point. To this end, the truth as it is taught by the Catholic Church must be subjected by professors who work at LMU not to the test of objective scrutiny that is rooted in the integration of faith and reason but to the au courant ideological test of how LMU's professors feel about "plurality and diversity of religious and moral sensibilities."
"Why ever would parents pay tuition for students to learn what a teacher thinks?" St. Augustine asked 1600 years ago in his treatise, de Magistro. The Motley Monk thinks it's as much an apropos question for today as it was for late Christian antiquity.
Let the discussion begin...
To read Professor Harrison's letter, click on the following link: