Publicly funded abortions would be a creature of the past in North Carolina if Republican lawmakers in the House get their way.
A provision included in the GOP’s budget plan would repeal a state account that has bankrolled abortions for low-income women for three decades. Another section would bar any state dollars from funding the procedure except in limited cases, a prohibition extending to health insurance coverage for state employees as well.
On top of the abortion-funding restrictions, Republican budget-writers have clawed back about $500,000 in state grants to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading abortion provider. The funds are earmarked for contraception and teenage pregnancy prevention programs in the Triangle area.
If the provisions survive budget negotiations, they would signal the most substantial victory for the North Carolina pro-life movement in years.
“It will go a long way toward reducing abortions in our state. That is definitely a good thing,” said Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life.
But pro-choice lawmakers say the budget would deny a needed service to women who can least afford it. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said that diverting abortion funding for women who have been raped reflects the values of the Republican majority.
“I believe that all women, no matter their income level, should have the right to be able to choose when and whether to have children,” Ross said.
Former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt created the State Abortion Fund in 1978. As initially envisioned, the pot of money funded elective abortions — those deemed medically unnecessary — up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, at a cost of up to $1.4 million annually.
In 1995, the General Assembly narrowed the fund to apply only to women below the federal poverty line who aren’t eligible for Medicaid, and limited funding to cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life was endangered. Lawmakers also scaled back the fund to $50,000 per year.
Since then, it’s subsidized just one procedure. The unused money has reverted to the general fund.
The abortion fund nearly was eliminated in 2009, under Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and a Democratic-controlled General Assembly, but it survived.
House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, said the provision would apply to all taxpayer-funded abortion in North Carolina. It reflects federal prohibitions on Medicaid-funded abortions, he said.
Ross questioned whether low-income women would have “an ability to exercise their constitutional right to choose” if the State Abortion Fund is abolished, but she wouldn’t say whether the restrictions on the fund should be eased so that more women would have access to publicly financed abortions.
“That’s not something that is on the table with this [Republican] leadership,” she said.
Under the present health insurance plan, female state employees are covered for abortions up to 16 weeks into pregnancy. The House budget would limit the coverage to rape, incest, or life of the mother. Employees would have to pay out of pocket for elective abortions.
The law would reflect a federal amendment, sponsored by former Republican U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio and included in federal appropriations laws for the past decade, that bars federal employees’ health plans from paying for abortions.
In 2010, a range of local governments opted to ban elective abortion from their local health insurance plans. In addition, the University of North Carolina System took heat for mandating that all students buy their own health insurance or else purchase a school-approved policy that includes elective abortion coverage.
The state pays for about 1,000 elective abortions each year through the plan, Stam said.
Holt said she’s confident the budget provisions would reduce North Carolina’s abortion rate. “We know from other states that when they stop the funding of abortions, then it does reduce the number of abortions that take place in the state,” she said.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.