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May 25, 2012

Compromise on abortions ‘a win-win’

Public money would not pay for some abortions under the state health insurance plan, according to a compromise brokered Thursday by two state senators.

Public money would not pay for some abortions under the state health insurance plan, according to a compromise brokered Thursday by two state senators.

The state health plan, which covers 417,000 people and is financed by a combination of premiums paid by state workers and taxpayers, now pays for abortions if the life of the mother is in danger, or in cases of rape or incest.

The compromise — worked out between state Sens. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg — would prohibit using taxpayer money to pay for abortions in the case of rape or incest. Instead, premiums paid by state workers alone would pay for those procedures.

Employees who do not support abortion could opt out, and their premiums would not pay for the procedures, if there are any. Since 2006, the state health plan has paid for six abortions. All six were performed to save the life of the mother, according to the state Budget and Control Board, which administers the state health plan.

The compromise will not be part of the $6.7 billion general fund budget that Senators approved Thursday. Instead, a budget rule would require the state health plan to determine how much, if any, premiums paid by state workers would have to increase in order to satisfy the proposal. Then, lawmakers would have to pass a law establishing the new guidelines. The health plan’s report is due to legislators by Nov. 15.

“It allows them to stand on their principle that they want to make sure that state funds aren’t going to pay for the procedures, and it allows those of us who want to make sure that victims of rape and incest who might need to avail themselves of this procedure have the coverage,” Hutto said. “In that sense, it’s a win-win.”

Hutto said he hopes the compromise will put an end to lengthy legislative debates about abortion. In 2010, the issue was so heated House lawmakers stayed up all night debating it.

This year, the abortion debate largely has bypassed the House. But in the Senate, Bright repeatedly has tried to ban state funding for abortions in cases of rape or incest, only to be foiled repeatedly by Hutto.

Bright had vowed to filibuster the Senate budget this year because it “kills babies.” But, Thursday, Bright praised Hutto as “a truthful friend.”

“I applaud him for this (compromise),” said Bright. “It took 46 years to end the slave trade ... in Europe and England. I know it’s going to be a long process. I know folks don’t want to go where I want to go. But this just moves the ball forward.”

Bright said he is not sure how much employee health insurance premiums will have to increase but said “it should be very minimal, if at all.”

Hutto said he does not think premiums would increase at all.

Carlton Washington, executive director of the S.C. State Employee Association, said it would be “ridiculous” to make state workers pay more for health insurance to cover abortions. But he added his biggest concern is that lawmakers include state workers in their discussions as they craft the plan.

Holly Gatling, executive director of S.C. Citizens for Life, also withheld judgment on the compromise, saying she needed time to review it. But she added her organization opposes abortion in any circumstance.

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