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Catholic University Health Plans and Abortion

May 15th, 2009
Cardinal Newman Society (

University of San Francisco’s (USF) two health insurance plans for employees both provide for abortion, sterilization and contraception.

MANASSAS, Va. (Cardinal Newman Society) - A recent investigation by Our Sunday Visitor reveals that some U.S. Catholic colleges and universities provide health insurance plans that conflict with Catholic teachings on the dignity of human life, while others manage to provide benefits compatible with their identity as Catholic institutions of higher education.

“It is more important than ever in this age of moral relativism and increasing secularism for Catholic colleges and universities to rededicate themselves to their Catholic identity,” said Patrick Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society. “An important step for many Catholic institutions is to ensure that health insurance benefits do not conflict with the Catholic faith. How can some Catholic colleges and universities expect to teach moral truths to students while simultaneously providing for employees’ procured abortions?”

Valerie Schmaltz wrote “Grading Catholic colleges’ health insurance plans” for the May 24 edition of Our Sunday Visitor. Schmaltz’s investigation found that “U.S. Catholic colleges have widely disparate levels of compliance with Church teaching when it comes to faculty and staff health insurance plans – with some offering artificial contraception, abortion, voluntary sterilization and other procedures that conflict with Church teaching in their plans.”

Our Sunday Visitor initially contacted 40 Catholic colleges requesting their participation in a survey for the investigation. Fewer than 20 responded. Therefore the results of the investigation are not intended to represent the health care policies of all Catholic colleges and universities.

The article highlights the legal and financial difficulties that many Catholic colleges and universities encounter when seeking to provide health insurance that does not contradict Catholic identity.

For example, University of San Francisco’s (USF) two health insurance plans for employees both provide for abortion, sterilization and contraception. According to the university, one of the plans cannot be altered because the contract is not yet up for negotiation. The USF Faculty Association contested a proposed change by the university to the other health insurance plan, citing a contractual breach.

Elliot Neaman, president of the USF Faculty Association told Our Sunday Visitor that the question whether abortion involves the killing of a child is “not relevant.” He said, “You are mixing up morality and contractual obligations.”

Other Catholic institutions of higher education, according to the investigation, whose health insurance plans conflict to varying degrees with Catholic moral teachings include: the University of Scranton, Georgetown University, DePaul University and Christian Brothers University.

Belmont Abbey College discovered in 2007 that its health insurance plan covered abortion, contraception, and voluntary sterilization. The college quickly reversed its plan to conform to Catholic moral teachings. The action was disputed and a complaint was filed by a small group of faculty members to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint is still pending, according to a Belmont Abbey spokesman.

David Schmiesing, vice president for Student Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, is quoted in the article as saying, “You have to have an institutional commitment that this is important to you, so all your faculty and staff understand what you are doing and why you are doing it and aren’t surprised by it.”

According to Schmaltz, other Catholic colleges and universities that have made concerted efforts to provide health insurance in line with Catholic moral principles include: Creighton University, Benedictine College, St. Thomas University, Belmont Abbey College, St. Ambrose University, the University of Notre Dame, and The Catholic University of America.

“The challenge of complying with Catholic teaching in the nitty-gritty of health insurance plans for Catholic colleges in one that requires insurance savvy, methodical persistence and a commitment to Catholic values,” said Tracy Williams, president of Verus Health, a third-party administrator of health and welfare plans.

Some say protection under the First Amendment freedom of religion amendment will be the best defense against state mandates threatening to force Catholic institutions to provide health insurance coverage in conflict with Catholic moral principles.

“Ideally every professor should be a practicing member of the faith,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund in Scottsdale, Ariz. “If you are a truly religious college then your professors should be presenting a clearly religious world view. The primary administrative and teaching positions should be held by members of the faith if you want the fullest protection of the First Amendment.”

“To really make a powerful argument for religious freedom and to protect its rights of conscience, it is very important that the school make its faith evident in its corporate documents and in its practice,” said McCaleb.

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