In the grand scheme of things, a one-dollar refund might not seem like much. But in the case of the Harvard University Health Services (UHS) policy that grants students with a “strong moral objection” to abortion a refund on a portion of their health fee, this dollar has more serious implications. It not only undermines the efficacy of University health policy, but also unduly elevates the moral claims of anti-abortionists above all other moral claims.
Mandatory health coverage is, first and foremost, meant to ensure that any student who needs access to basic health procedures will not be denied these for any reason, fiscal or otherwise. It is in this interest that the University offers us a comprehensive, rather than “à la carte,” health plan—one which includes elective abortions. This package of procedures is more than some default option—it is an active recognition on the University’s part that the covered procedures, when needed, are fundamental to a student’s health. In order to ensure that such procedures can be provided at minimal cost to students, the ability to pool costs through insurance is paramount. Allowing students to opt out of fees for given services, however, undermines this end and could potentially lead to gaping holes in health coverage, leaving students unable to access much-needed care. While the amount of the rebate in question here is minimal—even Harvard Right to Life (HRL) admits the fiscal effects are negligible—the potential precedent this sets in pandering to the preferences of students at the expense of those with legitimate health needs is dangerous. If enough students were to opt out of any given set of services, coverage would clearly be threatened.
Though HRL seemingly encourages students only to opt out “in the interest of principle” and if they have a “strong moral objection,” their decision to send such flyers to all students without disclosing the dollar amount of the refund suggests their intent to cause widespread impact. In targeting the entire student body, HRL seems to betray its stated intentions and actually cause a significant financial effect. By structuring the campaign the way it has chosen to—sweeping house mailboxes to increase “awareness” of this option—HRL has taken the campaign outside of the realm of hardcore pro-lifers and into the realm of proselytization. More disturbing is the fact that the flyers gloss over the amount of refund, potentially wooing students for money than for morals. Students who feel so strongly about their opposition to abortion are likely already involved in student groups that engage in dialogue about this issue, or they themselves have done the research and discovered this possibility.
Students who are so unfamiliar with BCBS’s approach to abortion coverage that they are not already aware of the opportunity for the refund are not those students strong enough in their convictions (or familiar enough with this issue) to make a wise and socially conscious decision regarding this element of health insurance. It is easy to imagine a student who is not sexually active or who engages in only the safest modes of intercourse choosing to opt for the refund because they cannot imagine themselves ever needing an abortion and find the idea of aborting disturbing.
What is more difficult to predict, however, is what that same student might choose to do if they found themselves or their partner pregnant and unable to have a child for emotional or physical reasons. It is unwise and irresponsible for students with moderate pro-life leanings to exclude themselves from participation in this service—especially if they’ve been persuaded to do so largely, or even partially, for monetary reasons.
HRL’s opportunistic campaign seems almost understandable given its mission. The University’s position, however, is less explicable: In providing an opt-out option for abortion specifically, the University unduly elevates the moral claims of anti-abortionists over any other. Jehovah’s Witnesses have no right to opt out of blood transfusion fees, and religious individuals who do not believe in modern medicine are required to have health coverage despite their moral objections. In both of these cases, we as a community have decided that the availability of these procedures and services trumps the “principled” objections that some in the community may have. Abortion should be no different. In creating default coverage to include elective abortions, the University has implicitly acknowledged that abortion services are as fundamental to a complete healthcare plan as routine physicals, vaccinations, and dental services.
Ramya Parthasarathy ’09, a Crimson editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. Emma M. Lind ’09, a Crimson editorial chair, is a history and literature concentrator in Winthrop House.