Local News

Elective abortion coverage sparks debate at Wake meeting

Posted February 15, 2010 10:07 p.m. EST
Updated March 14, 2010 10:32 p.m. EDT

— The Wake County Board of Commissioners on Monday heard from the public concerning a controversial decision to eliminate coverage of elective abortions from the health plan for county employees.

After learning from County Attorney Scott Warren that the state Supreme Court outlawed payment for the procedure by public entities in 1981, County Manager David Cooke authorized on Feb. 10 to eliminate health plan coverage for elective abortions.

The county had apparently not noticed when its provider added the elective abortions coverage to the plans it provides.

The commissioners were scheduled Monday to ratify or otherwise support the move. However, commissioners deadlocked in a three-to-three vote.

The meeting then turned into a heated public debate on the issue with supporters of the change saying taxpayers shouldn't fund abortions. Taxpayers subsidize medical policy plans for government employees.

"I think the polls are clear that the vast majority of us don't want to support the funding of elective abortions with our tax dollars,” Triangle Right to Life Chair Dorothy Yeung said.

"Anyone who is intelligent enough to be employed by Wake County is also intelligent enough to know the consequences and the blessings that accompany having sex. The choice to have a child should be made before the clothes come off,” pro-life supporter Diana Starling said.

Pro-choice supporters, however, say female employees will suffer if elective abortions are eliminated from county health coverage.

"I am appalled as a woman. This is a slap in the face to every female employee,” said Sandy Babb, with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.

Apex leaders voted last month to eliminate coverage of elective abortions from town employees' health insurance plans.

"We don't believe it's a proper use of public money, taxpayers' money, to fund elective abortions," Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said.

Weatherly said the federal government does not provide elective abortion coverage for its employees and that the town's decision is in line with federal standards.

Sarah Preston, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said a municipality is within its means to eliminate health coverage of elective abortions. However, Preston said she thinks Wake County was bullied into the decision by Republican leaders looking to make abortion an issue at the local level. Her organization is considering legal action.

"Coverage for abortion procedures is not barred by law. In fact, to single out a service only used by women could be a violation of equal protection,” she said.

Apex and Wake County employees will still be reimbursed for abortions in cases of rape, incest or danger to the health of the mother.

Wake Commissioner Harold Webb, who is recovering from a recent stroke, was absent from Monday's vote. The commissioners could take up the issue again at a future meeting.