Eliminate the Abortion Refund

Health services funding should not be influenced by personal preferences

Recent campaigns by members of Harvard Right to Life (HRL) have highlighted an obscure fact about the required University Health Services (UHS) fee: Students can receive a refund of the portion of their fee that is allocated to subsidize abortions. Although the actual refund is literally a few cents, and the amount of the subsidy is trivial compared to the high cost of obtaining an abortion, HRL has nevertheless encouraged anti-abortion students to register moral objection to the medical procedure by requesting the refund. We not only strongly discourage students from following this irresponsible advice, but we emphatically urge UHS to eliminate this refund option altogether.

The physical well-being of the community requires that issues of general health remain insulated from personal preferences. The required UHS fee, appropriated by a team of medical and administrative experts, supports a wide-range of services and programs. The average student may directly benefit from a only a fraction of these services, but that does not mean that students should be able to pick and choose which programs to fund.

Nor can we subject these decisions to an external moral, political or religious debate. We require Christian Scientists--who believe that the healing of disease should be performed by spiritual means alone--and Jehovah's Witnesses--who have deep religious convictions against accepting blood transfusions--to pay the entirety of their health services fee, regardless of their religious or personal beliefs. Although it is understandable that students may harbor strong moral objections to abortion, such personal preference cannot be grounds for overturning a professional and medical decision to subsidize a legally-sanctioned procedure.

In some sense, UHS already recognizes the importance of insulating health funding from personal preferences--anti-abortion refunds are the only medical refunds offered to students. But we wonder why such an exception exists, and why this refund option is exceedingly easy to exercise. Students may withdraw whatever portion of their health service fee would have gone to subsidize an abortion by simply check-marking a specific box.

It is one thing for UHS to cut funding after an evaluation of the procedure on its own merits; it is quite another to cave into the demands of one particular subset of moral beliefs.

Some argue that eliminating the refund option will represent a coercion of speech, since it will effectively force students to show support for causes they do not believe. But requiring a mandatory health services fee that also subsidizes a legal medical procedure is no more coercive to expression than a mandatory student-activity fee that also funds radical political groups.

We place a high value on a diversity of student activities, even though individuals might disagree with viewpoints espoused by some of these groups. Similarly, we should aspire to fund health services that will best serve the entire community, even though individuals may object to particular medical procedures. UHS should terminate its abortion refund option immediately.

DISSENT: Respect Freedom of Conscience

Preserving reproductive freedom is important, but far more important is the defense of freedom of conscience. By eliminating the option for a refund of that part of the mandatory student health services fee used to fund abortion, UHS would force opponents of abortion to finance what they see as murder.

Regardless of the merits of their position, it is wrong to compel them to support something that runs counter to the teachings of their church and the voice of their conscience. Under the current system, opponents of abortion are able to make a private peace with the system, knowing that they do not help to maintain abortion. The number of people who take advantage of the refund is so small that eliminating it does nothing to secure the availability of abortion. It is a gratuitous and unconscionable attempt to force a minority to violate their religious and moral beliefs by funding that which they find unconscionable.

--Charles C. DeSimone '01