Some women employees of Livingston County government were near tears on Wednesday after the commission gave preliminary approval to a resolution stripping them of coverage for most types of abortion, including cases of rape, incest, and threats to their mental or physical health.
The 6-2 vote of the commission’s finance committee came after commissioners said the loss of insurance coverage for abortion was not that big a deal.
“A first trimester abortion costs $300 to $400. A second trimester abortion costs $700 to $800. That’s not going to break anybody,” said Commissioner Bob Bezotte.
Women can still get an abortion, said Commissioner Kate Lawrence, but the county’s insurance won’t pay for it. She also said – falsely – that all medically necessary abortions would still be covered by the county’s insurance.
Commissioner Wes Nakagiri said the county covers many other health care services for women, including various birth control and cancer prevention services, and that was enough to show it cared about its women employees. The county, he said, shouldn’t cover abortion services because some taxpayers are opposed to it.
The vote was a slap in the face to women who work for the county, a sign that it fails to value them as full human beings who can be trusted to make their own decisions. Furthermore, county employees were not consulted in advance about the change or even informed that it was a possibility. Some employees expressed that concern afterward in private conversations.
The resolution bans coverage for elective abortions for non-union employees and directs the county to negotiate coverage out of contracts with union employees. In an act of blatant political grandstanding, the resolution includes the information that Nakagiri authored it.
Nakagiri offered an amendment to the resolution and put it on commissioners’ desks just before the meeting. It was not available to the public, but he said it banned coverage of prescription drugs that are used to induce an abortion and used the same definition of “elective abortion” as state law. The law he referred to excludes from the category of “elective abortion” any abortion certified by a doctor as necessary to avert a woman’s death. Those would still be covered by the county’s insurance. But the definition in state law means an abortion to end a pregnancy that threatens a woman’s mental or physical health would be considered “elective” and not covered by county insurance.
Commissioners Dennis Dolan and Gary Childs voted against the resolution. Childs said as a Catholic, he holds life sacred, but he thought it was unfair to take the right to abortion coverage away from some county employees and not others. “We hear complaints from conservatives about government overreach and now we are reaching into the family and making decisions for them,” he said.
Several commissioners asked that the resolution be reviewed by the county’s general counsel prior to Monday night’s vote at the commission meeting, raising the possibility that it could be tabled if the counsel’s review is not finished by then.
Seven men and women from the general public spoke against the resolution. They noted that Nakagiri had falsely implied that federal law bans insurance coverage of abortion for federal employees; that there was no analysis of whether the change would cost the county more money; that taxpayers are often forced to pay for other things that they may be morally opposed to, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions, and that the county had numerous other problems that the commission should be spending time on.
Five Republican men from the public spoke in favor of the resolution, including John Conely who said taxpayers should not pay for “abortions for birth control.”
Former Commissioner Dave Domas told Childs, “I will pray for you that you will have a change of heart.”
The resolution is due to come up at the 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 meeting in the board room on the second floor of the Courthouse Annex, 304 E. Grand River Ave., Howell.