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Kent County Commissioners vote to remove abortion as part of county employee health insurance

September 14, 2010

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.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2010 7:36 am

    Both as a personal citizen and a Board member for the National Organization for Women-Greater Grand Rapids Chapter, I am appalled by this decision. Not only does this decision go well beyond the scope of the public’s understanding of the role of the Board of Commissioners, the commissioners themselves are making no effort to hide the fact that this is a moral and religious decision. In addition to a gross abuse of power in regard to blending personal religious beliefs with dictating access to reproductive health for Kent County Employees, all of the members of this committee are men (who do not elect to have abortions, obviously). This is yet another example of political posturing at the expense of women and family health and the autonomy and privacy offered to women and families in the Roe v Wade Supreme Court Decision.

    Regardless of your pro or anti choice stance, it should be of concern to all citizens that a public board of elected officials has taken it upon themselves (with no urging from its beneficiaries or constituents) to determine what is appropriate medical care for employees of Kent County. My hope is that the unions, with backing from other organizations in the community, will stand firm against this political, election-year, strong-arming by the Kent County Commissioners, and refuse to bow to pressure to offer their members sub-par care.

    My promise is, that as both a member of an organization concerned with access to equal and fair reproductive health care and as a private citizen, I will continue to monitor this situation and take action to reverse this over-reaching decision by this Committee.

    Dani Vilella

  2. October 5, 2010 6:08 pm

    I spoke at length to Commissioner Synk about this. I am not about to get into a pro-life/pro-choice debate but I was concerned that Commissioner Synk had a narrow view of the situation. I am a single mother who made a choice to bear my child, even after the so called ‘pro-life’ father bailed on me. If elected in November, I will be the only single mother sitting on the Kent County Board of Commissioners. Reproductive decisions are often,if not always, made by the woman. Even in a situation where there are loving parters, the health risk belongs to the woman and usually by the time it comes to “to have vs. not to have” it is definitely a FEMALE decision.
    Like Dani, I was appalled that the members of the legislative and Human resourses committee would even think that this was something they needed to vote on. Not one of the commissioners was female. I also asked Commissioner Synk if other ‘elective’ procedures would be removed or if they had already been removed. As one of the few pro-choice candidiates on the ballot, I would have been less angry if this had been an overall move by the commission to remove ALL elective procedures. I would have also been less upset had it not had the ‘moral’ and ‘religious’ attitudes that were evidenced during the committee meeting. as I stated at a candidates event last night, I do not believe it should be the job of the commissioners to legislate on ‘morality’.

    Candace E. Chivis
    Democratic Candidate for the Kent County Board of Commissioners
    District 17

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