Choose HLS, get mail-in rebate!


Just two days before my deadline, I was still unable to think of a column topic that would serve as a suitable pretext to dispel the latest prediction regarding the Ames Finals by Fenno — who appears to be a Malvoesque puppet of the Byron White Memorial Team. Fortunately, last Friday I found a flier in my HarkBox, sponsored by the Society for Law, Life & Religion’s abortion rebate program, with the following message:

“Did you know that every year, Harvard’s University Health Services uses a portion of YOUR mandatory health services fee to subsidize elective abortions? This policy is not mentioned in the glossy admissions catalogs. However, through the efforts of SLLR, you can request a rebate of that portion of your fee (and your spouse’s fee) by filling out the [included form]. Hundreds of students take advantage of this rebate every year. Please join us in once again sending a strong life-affirming message to the university.”

Was this flier a slightly tardy effort to energize the base of the Republican Party? A parody of last year’s HarkBox leafleting antics? An effort to signal that any university that would actually humor these rebate-seekers is missing more backbone than we had previously thought?

I will not venture to revisit the abortion debate. There are powerful arguments on both sides of the issue. Unlike my colleagues from the SLLR, I realized long ago that one’s position on abortion is so tied up in core value judgments that the mere regurgitation of the latest medical evidence will not persuade anyone who has thought about the issue — as just about everyone here has. And I also realize that for every flier featuring an incendiary photograph of an aborted fetus, there is a not-quite-as-incendiary but just-as-disturbing photograph of a suffering infant who just might have benefited from its mother having a bit more reproductive autonomy.

But what I will quibble with is the idea that a fundamental disagreement with a given university policy ought to exempt a student from a portion of their tuition bill. The price of living in and supporting an organized society is that you don’t get to agree with everything that it does. Even in the sterile confines of the ivory tower, the logic of this rebate program produces absurd results. Can a Christian Scientist refuse to have her tuition dollars used for any university-funded health services? Can a white supremacist decline to fund the Civil Rights Project? Can an anti-poverty advocate refuse to have his money finance anti-abortion literature?

Oh wait — death is different. After all, the flier features the words of Mother Teresa, who proclaims that “[I]t is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” An interesting choice of quotations from students who have each decided to spend $130,000 on a fancy legal education rather than donating that money to, say, feeding starving orphans — many of whom will instead die of malnutrition so that our erstwhile crusaders can pursue the careers of their choice. The decision to pursue postgraduate education rather than prevent world hunger is a splendidly ironic move from members of a student group that proclaims that “Life is a miracle …. [d]on’t use your tuition dollars to end it.”

We all make choices, more of which have an effect on human life than we would like to admit. It certainly makes life uncomfortable to acknowledge the consequences of seemingly innocuous resource allocation decisions that we all make on a daily basis. Money doesn’t buy happiness — but it does buy food, shelter and medical care — and there is only so much money to go around. This just means that every dollar spent on a DVD or a three-piece suit is a dollar not spent on these necessities. But expanding our awareness of life’s complexities — however unpleasant — is one of the reasons we devote our potentially life-saving dollars to three more years in the ivory tower. Those who still think in black and white at the end of that time should ask for even more of their money back.

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