Kent County Commissioners vote to remove abortion as part of county employee health insurance
This morning Kent County’s Legislative and Human Resources Committee voted to end what the called elective abortions from the health plan that is currently part of the county employees health benefits.
This issue came to the attention to some at the county commission after the same issue was discussed in Kalamazoo earlier this year. Three from the Kent County Commission got together to work on a proposal to eliminate abortions as part of the current county employee health plan. The three commissioners are Democrat Bob Synk of Grand Rapids and Republicans Stan Ponstein of Grandville and Tom Antor of Sparta.
During the public comment at this morning committee meeting several people spoke on this issue. County Commissioner Jim Talen spoke first and said that in his 10 years as a commissioner only once did the issue of abortions come up.
“And now you have before you a resolution to remove elective abortions as a covered expense on one of the insurance plans available to our employees. How did that come about? Here is a resolution on a topic that has been hotly debated, not just locally, but all over our country, for decades. It is near and dear to the hearts of many in our community, reaching both extremes of the issue and everywhere in between.
And the stated rationale in support of the resolution is two-fold. First, it is the SENSE of the Board of Commissioners, the sense of the Board, that the benefit is inconsistent with the values and wishes of a large majority, not just a majority, but a large majority, of Kent County citizens. I ask you this morning – when did we lose our senses, and begin to think that simply having A SENSE about something, without any supporting data, is sufficient justification for a resolution about which our citizens have incredible passions on both sides.”
Talen was clear in his condemnation of this proposal and said that the issue should take place in the normal route with labor negotiations. The timing of this proposal also led Talen to believe that this was a political move just prior to the November elections.
The next 2 people to speak were both in favor of the proposal and against public tax dollars being used to fund county employees who chose to have an abortion. Both men want the commissioners to remove abortion rights from the health care benefits and one even called out commissioners who he believed have been silent on this issue even though they have had pro-life endorsements.
The only other person to address the commission committee was Megan Smith who stated that she supports the health care benefits as they are. She also said she was appalled that the commission is using the issue as, “political wrangling. This is about bodily integrity as was stated in Roe v Wade, “ Smith said.
Members of the commission committee then discussed the Health Care Benefits proposal beginning with one of the three who crafted the proposal, Democrat Bob Synk. Synk said he wanted to wait until the spring, but the other two commissioners pushed for the proposal to move forth now. Synk also said that his constituents are Pro-Life, that the county is and that most of the county employees are, even though he provided no evidence to support such a claim. Synk ended his comments by saying that removing abortion as one of the county employee funded benefits “will help couples be more responsible for their reproductive actions.”
One of the other commissioners responsible for crafting the proposal, Tom Antor, said that 99% of the e-mails he received from those who supported the current health care benefits were form letters, which Antor criticized because they “were not personal.” The e-mail letters were from an action alert from the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan.
Antor also stated that these letters referred to women’s reproductive rights as an entitlement. To this Antor responded by saying that abortion “is murder…..period!”.
Democratic commissioner Pete Hickey proposed to move the proposal to the full county board, but no one would second the motion. The 9 member commission committee then voted to adopt the proposal as stated, where in the Roll call was 9 – 0 in favor of the proposal.
The only other Democrat on the committee was Brandon Dillon who did not express an opinion about the proposal, although he did vote in its favor. Dillon is running for State Representative and may have chose to not take a strong position on this issue for fear that it could hurt his campaign, which is exactly the point that Commission Talen made during the public comment.
The issue will now go to the county employee union, which could voluntarily remove abortion as part of the current health care package. If they don’t do this then the County Administrator was directed to removal the benefit from the county health care package during subsequent contract negotiations with county employees. One commissioner told GRIID this may not happen until after the New Year.