GASTONIA, N.C. -- There was no dissent and little discussion among the all-Republican Gaston County Board of Commissioners as they voted to end coverage of elective abortion for county employees.
"I think if we would have known anytime sooner this would have already been taken out," Commissioner Tracy Philbeck said after the meeting. "I think the citizens I represent in Gaston County do not want their taxpaying dollars to be used towards abortion."
The resolution commissioners unanimously approved authorized the county manager to rollback the county health plan's coverage of abortion "to the fullest extent of the law."
That means that abortions would not be covered except in cases where the mother's life was in danger. Gaston County Human Resources Director Pam Peacock told NewsChannel 36 there is no exception for cases of rape or incest, though County Commission Chairman Mickey Price said after the meeting he believed there was such an exception.
"Whatever we can legally do, that's what we want to do," Philbeck said.
He and Commissioner Donnie Loftis proposed the resolution after receiving a letter from Rep. Paul Stam (R-Apex). Stam, an ardent pro-life conservative, wrote to local governments around the state to inform them that he believes coverage of abortion by a county health plan is illegal. His legal reasoning is based on a 1979 case involving a Wake County fund for indigent mothers. Stam had sued Wake County and won.
Stam's hometown of Apex ended its abortion coverage. Wake County struggled with the issue as well, though commissioners voted last week to reinstate the coverage. Stam has threatened to sue.
Gaston County attorney Chuck Moore said Stam's legal reasoning is faulty, but commissioners said they did not vote to end the coverage because of fear of a lawsuit.
"I did promise that if it ever came before this board -- a life issue -- being pro life, that I was always vote in the opposition. I feel somewhat proud that I am able to exercise that promise at this time," Commissioner Tom Keigher said.
Planned Parenthood has fought the changes statewide, accusing Stam of making women's health a "political football."
"County employees deserve comprehensive health care, and he is systematically dismantling it across the state," Melissa Reed, vice president of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood said.
The decision to include or not include elective abortion coverage is up to each local government. According to the ACLU, 80 percent of private insurers do include the coverage. For example, the city of Charlotte does cover elective abortions.
The cost savings to Gaston County is minimal. The county covered two elective abortions over the budget years 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and so far in 2009-2010.