Only one message: LMU remains Catholic

Editor’s note: On Oct. 7, the Board of Trustees of Loyola Marymount University voted to eliminate insurance coverage for elective abortions for faculty and staff in 2014. The Jesuit university will, however, provide employees an option to have abortion coverage if they pay for it themselves through an alternative health care plan.

In The Tidings’ Oct. 18 issue, Dr. Christopher Kaczor, LMU Professor of Philosophy, writing in a guest column, “Mixed Messages,” said the decision to allow making available insurance coverage for elective abortion through a third party is “morally problematic.” This week, another LMU professor responds to Dr. Kaczor’s column.

The matter of reproductive coverage has been, of late, one of the main concerns of many Catholic universities. In fact, it remains a highly controversial issue for all of them, as they try to articulate a sense of their specific identity in moral matters.

In his recent article, Dr. Christopher Kaczor, Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, dismissed the recent decision by the Board of Trustees of the University as “a mixed message.” Such judgment is unfair.

Behind the apparent neatness of his arguments, Dr. Kaczor neither conveys the depth of the quandary the University faced in its decision, nor the merit of a solution that, as President David Burcham suggested in his recent Convocation Address, far from chipping away at LMU’s commitment to its Catholic identity, articulates its meaning for a community of faculty, students, and staff that has become, over the years, increasingly pluralistic and diverse.

It is not my intention, here, to rebut Dr. Kaczor’s arguments in detail. I want to offer, however, an alternative account of the University’s rationale for its decision, on the presupposition that Dr. Kaczor’s critique, though clear, might actually betray a lack of appreciation for the complexity of the problems at stake.

LMU’s solution stands between two extremes: the dogmatic imposition of values on personal conscience and decision making, on the one hand; the identification, without further qualification, of freedom of conscience and freedom of choice, on the other. A solution that would de facto buy into either one of these extremes cannot be justified on Catholic grounds.

What does the middle ground look like, then? The University’s position is based on a couple of considerations.

First, on strict Catholic grounds, one can never justify the choice of "elective abortion." The direct cooperation, therefore, of a Catholic university with its employees/students thus choosing is unacceptable. To tolerate the free choice of individuals is, of course, one thing; another is for a Catholic university to provide the conditions for that choice to successfully take place. This point, argued by Dr. Kaczor, is certainly true.

Aware of the complexity of moral decisions in an environment now become pluralistic and diverse, however, the Catholic tradition has relied on the so-called principle of material cooperation as a tool to approach apparently intractable situations, in which a complete distance from an unethical choice is neither morally possible nor advisable.

This principle suggests that, at best, any cooperation to behavior considered unethical can only be "material," not "formal." What this means for the issue at hand is that a Catholic university cannot subscribe in the intentionality justifying the choice of abortion, even if it cannot completely separate itself from the "material," i.e., concrete, actualization of that very choice.
LMU’s solution stands between two extremes: the dogmatic imposition of values on personal conscience and decision making, on the one hand; the identification, without further qualification, of freedom of conscience and freedom of choice, on the other. A solution that would de facto buy into either one of these extremes cannot be justified on Catholic grounds.

The principle suggests, furthermore, that material cooperation is permissible when “remote" rather than "proximate." Proximate cooperation would take place were the University to offer coverage for "elective abortion" through its health care carriers.

Under what conditions, then, can a "remote" and “material” cooperation occur in the concrete circumstances under consideration? The University has chosen to eliminate coverage for abortion and to allow a third party administrator (TPA)-managed plan to establish arrangements for abortion coverage without using LMU dollars to pay for this additional coverage.

This solution has two main advantages:

—First, it provides the University with sufficient "distance" from the choice of elective abortion.

—Second, by relinquishing to the TPA any agreement with potential LMU subscribers, it offers the privacy warranted by all health care decisions, a privacy so deeply rooted in American law and ethics that it is hardly questionable in its merit.

On a strictly theoretical ground, this solution will satisfy neither those who ask to drop coverage for elective abortion altogether nor those who want to keep it. Both positions are, however, problematic. The latter forces the University into a “proximate” rather than a purely “remote” cooperation; the former, by insisting the University prevent any type of abortion coverage, dismisses the moral rationale that grounds the freedom to choose otherwise.

One could say that LMU’s decision falls somewhere in the middle. Surely, as Dr. Kaczor claims, the University does not force any moral choice upon its members by failing to provide the TPA option. LMU would, however, limit a space of freedom for its employees were it not to provide that option.

Second, in addition to a careful application of the principle of material cooperation, the University’s decision is based on what I would call a sense of consistency. Consistency suggests that the ethos of pluralism, of respect for diversity of moral and religious sensibilities, of openness and dialogue, so clearly treasured by our University, cannot be abruptly bracketed in matters of health care decisions, including matters of reproductive choice.

Respect for conscience demands that whatever policy LMU adopts, it sees it as an articulation, rather than a suspension, of that very ethos. The Jesuit tradition has always been committed to the notion that respect for conscience and freedom ought to prevail, especially in situations of conflict and doubt.

Our University sees itself as committed to the sanctity of human life and the health of women, while remaining pluralistic in nature, and open in the way it articulates its Catholic identity. The solution it adopted is not a moral compromise, let alone a “mixed message,” as Dr. Kaczor suggests. It is a prudent articulation of the values LMU cherishes as a Catholic university for an issue that, as the Board of Trustees’ letter states, is “extremely complicated and encompasses varied and competing values…”

The commitment to a position that enhances both the life of the unborn and the health of women warrants, in my opinion, the policy adopted by LMU: the exclusion of direct coverage for elective abortion by the University, with the provision of a TPA for those who want to maintain open for themselves the space of free choice.

Dr. Roberto Dell'Oro is director of The Bioethics Institute and Professor in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. Having served at LMU since 2003, he holds a Doctorate in Moral Theology (S.T.D.) from Gregorian University, Rome, and was a member of the International Forum of Catholic Bioethicists (2003-09).

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REV. RONALD ROLHEISER, OMI

Jean Beliveau was more than an athlete, though certainly he was a one-in-a-million athlete. The record of his achievements almost defies belief. He played in the National Hockey League for 20 seasons and retired with 10 championship rings. 

 

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