This week, Harvard Right to Life (HRL) encouraged students to assert their opposition to elective abortion by opting out of a portion of their health services fee. The student group sent cards to each first-year and tabled in House dining halls, urging students to make a symbolic statement regarding their aversion to the practice by requesting a $1 refund from University Health Services (UHS). To criticize HRL’s annual campaign, which started in 1998, on the grounds that it causes any discernible harm would be petty; it has never led more than 101 students to opt out in a single year, and it will likely continue to have little effect on the University’s ability to subsidize elective abortions. However, there is an important principle at stake here. Since HRL has put the University’s policy in the spotlight once again, we feel it necessary to reiterate our objections: the policy of allowing students to opt out of from this one cost is inherently unfair.
HRL President Catherine C. Roche ’06 recently told The Crimson: “I don’t feel that people should have to spend their hard earned money on something that they oppose.” But if the University were to follow that logic, students would be allowed to opt out of myriad policies with which they feel moral conflict. Those against modern medical practices could opt out of the health services fee entirely. Vegetarian students would be allowed to abstain from portions of their meal plan fees, ensuring that their hard earned dollars were not going towards the purchase of meat. These abstentions are not allowed, and for good reason. Opening up an opt-out policy across the board would lead to considerable funding problems for Harvard’s services and would thus seriously undermine the efficiency of University programs.
Of course, it is somewhat obvious that the University’s reasons for allowing this patently biased policy are chiefly political. The impact of the refunds is insignificant with regards to the ability of UHS to provide monetary support for those choosing to have an abortion; thus, allowing a small sect of the student body to withhold its dollars is easier than facing the inevitable political fallout if Harvard were to bar students from making this symbolic gesture. But saving the University some grief is not a rationale for the policy’s existence. It exclusively favors pro-life students’ moral obligations, while deeming all other student concerns unimportant enough to warrant an opt-out mechanism. UHS decided—and rightly so—to offer funding for abortions; Harvard should stand by that decision.
We are in no way criticizing HRL for bringing the subject of abortion to the fore of campus discourse. It is the right of every student group to raise awareness on issues about which they feel strongly. But we question Harvard’s unfair policy. Allowing pro-life students to opt out of this portion of their fee is fundamentally unfair, and the University should not permit it.