By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Wake County and the City of Apex have decided they will no longer spend taxpayer money to help fund employees’ elective abortions, and Columbus County may be next to limit coverage to those procedures deemed medically necessary.
“Thank God and thanks to pro-life citizens for speaking out,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We hope more and more folks will hold their local officials accountable on this issue.”
Apex made the change last month with Mayor Keith Weatherly saying that the move put the town in line with federal standards. The Wake County Manager announced more recently that elective abortion would no longer be covered for county employees. Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) had brought the matter to the attention of Commissioner Tony Gurley and later mailed a letter to County Attorney Scott Warren reminding him of a 29-year-old N.C. Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
In that case — Stam v. State — the court held that “Wake County lacked statutory authority when it appropriated funds to pay for ‘medically unnecessary’ abortions for indigent women,” the letter said. Though Wake cited three statutes dealing with the county’s right to levy taxes to provide Social Services as the source of its authority to fund the abortions, all three were rejected by the state’s High Court.
“By no stretch of the imagination can we consider medically unnecessary abortions as ‘essential to the health and welfare’ of the recipients …” the Court ruled, later concluding, “We find it inconceivable that the legislature would have intended medically unnecessary abortions to be basic necessities of life.”
Stam’s letter conceded that counties have the power to provide health insurance as well as other fringe benefits to their employees, but said the provisions that allow them to do so are no broader than the social service statutes which were deemed insufficient in Stam v. State.
“Because it does not have the legislative authorization to do so the county has no legal ground to pay for employee health insurance coverage that includes elective abortions,” he concluded in the letter to Warren, adding in his accompanying e-mail that Wake would face a lawsuit if commissioners voted to reinstate the abortion funding after it was stopped on Feb. 12.
Wake County Commissioners deadlocked 3-3 on Monday on a vote to ratify the health insurance plan amendment, meaning the ban remains in place for now. According to the commissioners’ meeting agenda, from 1999 through 2005 Wake purchased a fully insured health insurance plan through United Health Care that included elective and non-elective abortions. The language of the plan carried over in 2005 when Wake switched to a self-funded plan and remained in place when CIGNA began administering the self-funded plan in 2008. Since Feb. 12, the plan states that “Abortions will be covered only in the case of medical necessity where the life of the mother is endangered or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.”
Members of the American Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina rallied against Wake County’s move, but pro-life forces were equally represented.
“It is settled for now, but we will have to stay on top of this one in Wake County,” Dorothy Yeung, Triangle Right to Life Chair wrote in an e-mail reporting Monday’s vote and thanking pro-life supporters for voicing their opinion to Wake officials.
She had reminded commissioners in Monday’s meeting that the vast majority of those polled do not want to support abortions with their tax dollars. In fact, a recent CNN poll showed that 61 percent of respondents oppose using public funds for abortion.
In Columbus County, Commissioner Ronald Gore made the topic part of a discussion of health insurance premiums and cited a memo from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners telling county officials that they have the authority to determine employee health benefits and can decide whether or not to offer abortion coverage, an opinion that would seem contrary to the Stam v. State ruling, but one that may nevertheless lead Columbus to stop funding elective abortions.
According to The Durham Herald Sun, the North Carolina League of Municipalities recently announced that its attorneys believe cities and towns have that same authority, however the League decided last week that the health insurance it obtains for 180-plus municipalities as of July 1 will no longer have abortion coverage in its standard plan. Even so, various entities can “opt-in” if they decide to offer the coverage.
Counties and cities that deny coverage for elective abortion are in line with some state and federal provisions. In 1995 the North Carolina General Assembly limited the State Abortion Fund to $50,000 and restricted eligibility “to women whose income is below the federal poverty level … who are not eligible for Medicaid” where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest or in the case that it would endanger the mother’s life. Although the state still funds employee abortions, the federal government does not offer its employees coverage except in the above mentioned cases.