Updated at the bottom with the school's board voting to deny abortion coverage. Sort of. First posted at 7:07 a.m.

Loyola Marymount University is more than just a quality private school perched on the bluffs above Playa Vista. It's a Catholic institution, known for opening its doors to a diverse student population and a curriculum that explores worlds far outside the Bible. It even has a master's program for “yoga studies.”

But one issue could bring LMU back to its religious roots and, some say, roll back progress on the Westchester campus:


The school's trustees were scheduled to decide today whether to eliminate abortion from procedures covered by health insurance for employees.

The campus has erupted in debate over the matter, with some faculty members demanding that the coverage remain — and more doctrinaire outsiders suggesting that those professors keep quiet lest they be ousted.

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In fact, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic group that appears to claim some credit for putting a spotlight on the school's circa 1988 elective abortion coverage, said this:

Catholic families have a right to know that theology professors at a Catholic university are out of step with the Church and have been advocating University benefits for abortion. Why should any university fear the truth? If objectively reporting the public statements and writings of Loyola Marymount's professors is embarrassing or even intimidating, then perhaps the statements ought not have been made in the first place.

LMU president David Burcham wrote an email to faculty and staff last week to discourage folks on both sides of the debate from intimidating each other:

I want to underscore in the strongest language possible the rights of our faculty to pursue academic research wherever it may lead, and to express their own opinions, whether by signing letters, petitions or newspaper ads. That is the basis of academic freedom and is a concept at the very heart of what we do at LMU … We have no room here for intellectual bullying or intimidation, whether the source be internal or external.

The contentious issue is coming to a head just as Obamacare is kicking in with a option for abortion coverage, and only three weeks after Pope Francis himself said the church was “obsessed” with abortion and that it had to “find a new balance.”

Laurie Levenson, a noted law professor at LMU, told the New York Times over the weekend:

Loyola Marymount has always represented tolerance, diversity and a welcoming atmosphere where we can exchange ideas openly. If this represents a shift in what it means for Loyola to be a Catholic university, and being a Catholic university now means exclusion, I think Loyola would lose something very special. It could dramatically change who's attracted to the university and what faculty want to be involved.

But Christopher Kaczor, a philosophy professor at the school, said Loyola Marymount should stick to its Catholic roots:

Part of the university's mission is to promote justice. And in the Catholic tradition, abortion is considered a justice issue. So to say the university supports justice and then also pay for abortions is a contradiction.

[Update at 7:36 p.m.]: President Burcham and board of trustees chair Kathleen Hannon Aikenhead announced in a statement tonight that the board has voted to deny abortion coverage.

But they said it would allow faculty and staff to purchase “Third Party Administrator (TPA)-managed” coverage that would “cover elective abortions, for which an employee will pay a slightly higher premium.”

In a statement sent to the Weekly and other outlets, they explain:

The employee will be responsible for the entirety of the cost associated with this additional coverage and, thus, no LMU dollars will be used in paying for this additional coverage.

Otherwise, they said:

… We believe that the right to life and dignity for every human being is a fundamental part of Catholic beliefs (all other rights flow from this primary right to life and dignity), and that this vision needs to be evidenced in LMU's policies and procedures.

Thus, the Board decided that LMU's principal insurance plans in 2014 will not provide coverage for elective abortions. All other aspects of reproductive health coverage will remain the same. We will continue to cover therapeutic abortions, contraception and other forms of reproductive care mandated by the State of California.

… In this decision, we join the Jesuits in the United States and their many works (as evidenced in their 2003 statement Standing for the Unborn) and reaffirm LMU's commitment to its Jesuit/Marymount and Catholic heritage and faithfulness to the Catholic Church's core teaching on the dignity of every human being at all stages of life. In doing so, however, we also want to reaffirm clearly that we are a university in which diversity, academic freedom, free discourse, unencumbered pursuit of truth and engaged debate on important contemporary issues are part of our very nature and key to our success.

Employees will start open enrollment Oct. 28.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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