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Wisconsin Will Not Fund Abortion in State Government Health Plan
Heather Weininger 10 October 2018
Ensuring taxpayer dollars are not being used to fund abortions continues to be a top priority in Wisconsin. During this last legislative cycle, another step to keep taxpayer dollars from indirectly funding abortions was signed into law. Assembly Bill 128, now 2017 Wisconsin Act 191,[i] signed by Governor Scott Walker on April 3, 2018, prohibits the Group Insurance Board from engaging in a group health insurance plan that covers abortion, with certain exceptions. In the State of Wisconsin this extends to eligible employees who fall under the Wisconsin Retirement System. This would include all state employees, as well as retirees, and it may include local units of government who participate in the Group Insurance Board health plans.
In 1977, Wisconsin statutes were updated to include s.20.927 which prohibits state or local funds, as well as federal funds passing through the state treasury to be authorized or paid to a physician, surgeon or a hospital, clinic or other medical facility for the performance of most abortions.[ii] The prohibition did not apply to abortions that are directly and medically necessary to save the life of the woman; in the case of a reported sexual assault or incest; or where, due to a medical condition existing prior to the abortion, the abortion is directly and medically necessary to prevent grave, long-lasting physical health damage to the woman.
In 1995, then-Wisconsin State Attorney General, Jim Doyle (D), was asked to issue an opinion on the applicability of s.20.927 to health insurance plans provided for state and local government employees by the Group Insurance Board (GIB). On February 14, 1995, Doyle issued an opinion in which he asserted that, “monies used to fund state employee insurance plans are not subject to the limitation of section 20.927 when establishing and contracting for state and local employee health insurance plans.”[iii]
Doyle’s 1995 opinion blatantly disregarded the clear intent of the Legislature when it passed s.20.927 into law in 1977. The legislative findings clearly say, “It is therefore declared to be the public policy of this state that non-therapeutic abortions shall not be subsidized. The following statutory provisions shall be broadly construed [my emphasis] to effect the objectives set forth in this section.”[iv] Rather than a broad interpretation, Doyle narrowly construed this law in order to provide publicly-funded abortion coverage to state and local employees using public dollars.
A 2016 Marist poll[v] showed that more than 6 in 10 Americans, both pro-life and pro-choice, Republicans and Democrats, oppose taxpayer funding for abortion. AB 128 recognizes this consensus and ensures that the Group Insurance Board does not provide nor enter into any contract with a group health insurance plan that covers abortion. While abortion coverage for state employee’s health insurance is an indirect means of taxpayer-subsidized abortions, at the end of the day, the funds supporting state employee’s insurance are public – and therefore, paid by taxpayers.
It is unknown how many abortions were covered during the time the opinion was issued and when the new law took effect. However, it is now certain that taxpayer dollars will not be used in elective abortions in the State of Wisconsin.
The implementation of this particular bill is quite simple, when the Group Insurance Board enters into contracts for insurance purposes, they cannot enter into any plans that cover abortions. In order to be certain this is indeed happening pro-life groups will have to be sure the Group Insurance Board is following the law. If questionable practices seem to be happening, then pro-life groups should go back to the legislature and ask for an audit of health insurance contracts.
As other states look at ways to cut taxpayer dollars to the abortion industry, they should begin by following the money. Following the flow of money often leads to further investigation and, in turn, can lead to additional areas where dollars can be cut from the abortion industry. All pro-life groups should be looking to see that, first, they have in place laws that prohibit taxpayer dollars from funding abortions and, second, that taxpayer dollars are not being used to inadvertently pay for abortions through insurance coverage for state or local employees.
Pro-choice groups often say that insurance monies are not directly funding abortions. However, when taxpayer dollars are used to cover health insurance policies that allow for abortion coverage, at the end of the day, taxpayer dollars are being used to pay for abortions. The veil of putting funds into a general pot of money to pay for insurance coverage does not negate what is covered in an insurance policy. There are groups of individuals who do not wish to participate in abortions through either direct or indirect means. Taxpayers should not be on the hook by paying for benefits of a government employee who is seeking to have abortion coverage in their health insurance.
[iv] You may view legislative findings here: https://books.google.com/books?id=TfpOAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA1128&lpg=PA1128&dq=It+is+therefore+declared+to+be+the+public+policy+of+this+state+that+non+therapeutic+abortions+shall+not+be+subsidized.+The+following+statutory+provisions+shall+be+broadly+construed&source=bl&ots=KTu0biewpW&sig=x5YZUDzCVnh6Yh9BoHjbDYRcsns&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiT2I31qfzdAhUO4VMKHfDHDgQQ6AEwAHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=It%20is%20therefore%20declared%20to%20be%20the%20public%20policy%20of%20this%20state%20that%20non%20therapeutic%20abortions%20shall%20not%20be%20subsidized.%20The%20following%20statutory%20provisions%20shall%20be%20broadly%20construed&f=false.
Heather Weininger, is the Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Life