Wake County limits abortion coverage, rescinds support of school diversity

Posted on: December 7th, 2010 by Ned Barnett 2 Comments

Image by Matt MahurinThe Wake County Board of Commissioners is a local body, but in its first meeting with a new Republican majority, the board waded immediately into hot button national issues — abortion and the racial balance of public schools.

With Republicans holding a 4-3 majority, the board voted along party lines Monday to remove coverage of elective abortion from the county employees’ health plan. It also voted to rescind a motion passed by the previous Democrat-controlled board that supported diversity in the schools.

Meanwhile, the board elected former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble, a conservative in the tradition of his uncle, the late U.S. Sen Jesse Helms, as the new board chairman replacing Republican Tony Gurley.

The votes on abortion and diversity drew opposition during the public comment period, but the results were never in doubt. Gurley said prior to the meeting that the new majority’s first priority would be to “clean up” actions by the previous board.

Those actions included the board’s support for keeping abortion coverage in the health plan and its opposition to efforts by the Wake County school board to abandon diversity requirements in favor of neighborhood schools.

Sarah Preston, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, objected to the removal of abortion coverage and noted that the board had made it one of its first actions.

“It shows the priorities are truly misplaced on this commission,” she said, adding that removing the coverage “would place an additional burden on women who are already in a difficult situation.”

Carey Pope, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice of North Carolina, said the vote went against the idea of limited government that Republicans advocated during the campaign.

“Many thought the recent election was about limited government,” she said. “but this is about big government.”

Pope added, “The Board of Commissioners should be focusing on what they can provide for the women of Wake County, not what they can take away from them.”

Melissa Reed of Planned Parenthood Health Systems said in an interview that the vote on abortion coverage reflects actions being taken by other local governments in the state. She said about 20,000 women have lost coverage in the past year.

Reed said bills calling for similar restrictions at the state level failed in the past, but she expects they “will pass very quickly” in the newly Republican-controlled General Assembly. She said Planned Parenthood will counter those votes with an effort “to educate women across North Carolina on potential actions to restrict care.”

The board’s vote means the county employee health plan will no longer cover abortions in the first 18 weeks of pregnancy, but there will be exceptions for cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is in danger. The change will take affect when the coverage plan is renewed on Jan. 1.

The move to rescind the resolution on schools brought objections from supporters of the school system’s now discarded diversity policy.

Karen Rindge, executive director  of WakeUp, a nonpartisan group that advocates for planned development, said in an interview that the board was advocating an expensive step. She said allowing some Wake schools to slip back into high concentrations of low income and minority students will cost the county by reducing its appeal to new businesses. It’s a loss the county can’t afford when revenue is already down, she said.

“The impact of resegregating schools, we know, is going to cost much more, “ she said. “How can they support an action that is going to result in higher costs? It’s mystifying.”

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