Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Belmont Abbey College

Patrick Madrid emailed me today about a crisis at Belmont Abbey College - which is a small college in North Carolina. It has very brave leaders who are standing up for the Catholic identity of the school, which is under attack from some employees who want the school to offer abortion, sterilization and contraception coverage in the insurance plan. The president of the university wrote a letter, which I will quote below, to all employees about the issue. God Bless them in this fight.

Dear Faculty, Staff, Administration, Students and Friends of the College,

As most of you know, in early December it was discovered that the healthcare policy for Belmont Abbey College covered abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization. As soon as we discovered this, we immediately removed these procedures and prescriptions from the healthcare plan provided by the College for our employees.

On January 18, Abbot Placid spoke to the College faculty, staff, and administration to explain the reasons for making this change.

Since that January 18th gathering, a number of questions have arisen from both individuals and groups. I thought it might be helpful to try to clear up any possible confusion by answering some of the questions that some of you have asked. If, after you have read the Q&As below, you still have questions, please know that my door is always open to you.

How did the changes to the medical benefits come about?

Late in 2007, our health insurance provider changed both the cost and the structure of its coverage for our employees. When that provider handed out the new paperwork, one of our faculty members noticed that the policy covered abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization. It was subsequently discovered that this coverage had been in place for some time, but none of us had been aware of it - something we all regret and for which we apologize. When this discovery was brought to the attention of Abbot Placid, he and I immediately asked our health insurance provider to eliminate coverage for abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization from the College’s group medical plan.

Why was coverage of abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization removed?

As Abbot Placid made clear, it is the clear, consistent, incontrovertible, public, official and authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization are actions which are intrinsically wrong and should not be undertaken because of their very nature. As a Roman Catholic institution, Belmont Abbey College is not able to and will not offer nor subsidize medical services that contradict the clear teaching of the Catholic Church.

How did these coverages become part of our health plan in the first place?

Because of some turnover in a key position related to medical benefits we have not been able to determine how or when this coverage got into our policy. Again, we regret that this coverage was ever offered.

Were any faculty, staff or committees consulted on this change?

No. The teaching of the Catholic Church on this moral issue is clear. The responsibility of the College as a Catholic College sponsored by the monks of Belmont Abbey to follow Church teaching is equally clear. There was no other course of action possible if we were to operate in fidelity to our mission and to our identity as a Catholic College. Therefore, consultation was not an option. However, Abbot Placid and I have publicly and repeatedly expressed a willingness to discuss the matter at any time with anyone who would like to talk to us.

What complaints arose from the withdrawal of these medical coverages?

We received one email questioning the reason for the change, and we responded to that email. A group of eight faculty members filed formal complaints with various state and federal agencies demanding the reinstatement of these coverages, and the College was notified in due course by these agencies. The complaints of which the College has learned from the agencies involved include:

  • One person complained to the North Carolina Department of Insurance that we should be required by state law to provide abortion, voluntary sterilization, and contraceptive coverage.
  • Eight people filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the change in insurance benefits was an act of discrimination on the basis of their religion or sex.
  • On January 16, 2008, I received a letter from the National Women's Law Center in Washington, DC, threatening a lawsuit against the College on behalf of the same eight people who had filed the EEOC complaints. At this time, the College is facing no lawsuit.

What is the status of these formal complaints?

  • North Carolina Department of Insurance complaint: On January 25, 2008, the North Carolina Department of Insurance sent the complainant notification that Belmont Abbey College is a religious employer under state law. On February 4, 2008, the National Women’s Law Center sent a letter to the North Carolina Department of Insurance requesting that they reconsider their finding. Belmont Abbey’s counsel has contacted the North Carolina Department of Insurance asking whether they are going to reconsider the matter. If they are going to reconsider the matter, our counsel has requested that our side be heard.
  • EEOC complaint: We have retained legal counsel regarding the EEOC complaints and have received an extension to reply to the EEOC so that we can more efficiently respond to the eight complaints as a group. We hope to file that response shortly.

Will the College voluntarily reinstate these medical coverages?

No. As Abbot Placid made clear, as a Catholic College sponsored by the monks of Belmont Abbey, Belmont Abbey College will not offer nor subsidize these coverages. To do so would be to act contrary to the College’s stated mission and identity.

God Bless,

Dr. William K. Thierfelder

Belmont Abbey College
100 Belmont-MT. Holly Road
Belmont, NC, United States
, 28012
Fax 704.825.6231


God Bless Belmont Abbey College.


Lisa B said...

God bless those of you who will stand up and defend what is right. We should pray for those who are fighting this decision. The President of the college had every right to amend that insurance policy. Abortion will never be an acceptable alternative. If one voice can be heard, one life may be saved. LB

David said...

There is no issue of abortion or sterilization in the EEOC action here. The faculty members are seeking to have birth control (i.e. "the pill") restored to the employee's prescription plan which is probably required by the civil rights act and the pregnancy discrimination act. By far the vast majority of college employees, Catholic and non Catholic, are in favor of this. I know all eight complainants and none of them thinks a Catholic college should have to pay for abortions or sterilizations.