Michigan Union Opposes Removing Abortion Coverage From Employee Health Plan

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 26, 2010   |   3:07PM   |   Grand Rapids, MI

Kent county officials voted to remove abortion coverage from the taxpayer-funded health care plan county employees receive, but a union is now saying it opposes the move and will try to stop it.
In September, the Kent County Commission voted 9-0 to remove abortion coverage from the county health insurance plans.

The vote makes a formal request of County Administrator Daryl Delabbio to remove abortion coverage from the health insurance plans which cover Kent County employees.

The commission instructed Delabbio to contact the county’s 13 labor unions to see if they will be willing to voluntarily drop the benefit. If they agree to do so, Delabbio is directed to negotiate the removal of the abortion coverage during the next county employee contract negotiation.

However, Human Resources Director Don Clack told the Grand Rapids News today that he’s not heard back from many of the unions but has received negative responses from the ones giving him input thus far.

“Even among some who accepted the concessions there were concerns that we reopened negotiations for budgetary reasons and this isn’t about budgetary concerns,” Clack said. “It’s a little premature to say where we’re going with this right now but some of the feedback is that they’re not in support of us coming back to reopen their agreements whether it’s on behalf of the board or not.”

Tim Lewis, president of the 190-member Kent County Law Enforcement Association, told the newspaper his union rejected the proposal because it saw the move as politically motivated by commissioners seeking support from pro-life advocates.

Lewis said the union will not back down on removing the abortion coverage.

“I told them flat out that we’d sit down and negotiate but our contract is not up, and we’re not going to just give up a right that we’ve had in our contract for years,” Lewis said. “It was a political move on the part of commissioners who want the right to life people to vote for them

“It’s a political move and we don’t want any part of that,” Lewis added. “If it had been done in another way it might have gotten done.”

The county’s self-funded insurance plan is administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and it has paid $5,601 for 13 abortions since 2004, according to the News.

The plan covers 82 percent of the more than 1,700 employees in the county, while the rest are covered under the fully insured Grand Valley Health Plan HMO, which does not pay for abortions.

Bob Synk, a Democrat from Grand Rapids who is a member of the commission, told the newspaper the commissioners will be patient in getting the abortion coverage ban removed.

“It’s motivated by our values and that may be why we got elected because our values are similar to our constituents’ and this is what they want,” Synk said. “Perhaps we were being overly optimistic at the beginning that it could happen quickly. We’ll just have to be patient.”

Right to Life of Michigan and Grand Rapids Right to Life helped apply pressure by turning out local pro-life residents to the meeting where the vote was taken. RLM Board Chairman Paul Miller provided pro-life testimony during the committee hearing.

The effort to remove abortion coverage from the county’s health insurance plans was initiated by three candidates Right to Life of Michigan endorsed: Synk, and Republicans Stan Ponstein of Grandville and Tom Antor of Sparta.

Miller noted, “This is a perfect example of the importance of local RLM-PAC endorsements.”

Ponstein told the newspaper he didn’t agree with having to pay for abortions for county employees, especially as a member of the county government.

“I was never told as a commissioner that I would have to check my Christian beliefs at the door,” Ponstein said. [related]

Commenting on the decision back in September, Right to Life of Michigan Director of Public Information Pamela Sherstad told LifeNews.com state residents should be proud.

“We applaud those who take a stand to protect human life. This initiative demonstrates that elected officials at the local level have opportunities to protect innocent unborn children and the conscience of tax-payers who do not want to fund abortion as a ‘health’ benefit,” she said.