Taxpayer Money for Abortion on Ballot in 3 States This Year

November 5, 2018 Updated: November 7, 2018

The states of West Virginia, Oregon, and Alabama all have measures on their ballots this year related to funding of abortion with taxpayer dollars.

None of the measures would prohibit women from having an abortion, which is protected by Roe v. Wade; if passed, the initiatives would exempt taxpayers from paying for the procedures through state-funded health plans.

West Virginia

West Virginia is one of 17 states that currently fund abortion with taxpayer money.

Amendment 1 would add language to the state constitution to say that nothing in it “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” If passed, it would essentially prohibit Medicaid from covering the procedure, except under certain circumstances.

West Virginia has permitted abortion since the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade made it legal across the country in 1973. However, state funding was restricted to cases where the mother’s life was in jeopardy, the fetus was a product of reported rape or incest, or had a congenital condition.

In 1993, the state supreme court ruled that the government has an obligation to provide medical care for the poor in a “neutral manner,” and thus, must cover the procedure through state-run health programs like Medicaid, even for elective abortions.

“We’re just trying to remove that and have the state constitution be neutral on abortion and get the taxpayer out of the business of paying for elective abortions,” said Mary Ann Buchanan, communications director for West Virginians for Life. 

According to West Virginians for Life, which has been collecting data on state-sponsored abortions since 1977, Medicaid has paid for nearly 35,000 abortions at a cost of $10 million.

Pro-abortion group WV Free put out a phone poll of 600 likely voters that appears to show that West Virginians are not in favor of the measure.

Done by two leftleaning polling companies, the Jan. 4–7 survey asked participants if they support “banning abortion coverage in the Medicaid program.” The question does not mention the exceptions under which a woman on Medicaid would be covered. Forty-four percent said they felt strongly that Medicaid should cover on-demand pregnancies while 33 percent said they felt strongly the other way.

WV Free has used the poll to argue that politicians are out of touch with voters and should stop debating the initiative.

“West Virginians want our politicians focused on good jobs and healthy families—not launching politically motivated attacks that take away health care,” Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, said in a statement.

Oregon

Oregon’s Measure 106 is a similar initiative that would prohibit state dollars from being used on elective abortions.

“Measure 106 doesn’t stop anyone from choosing an abortion, but it will give Oregon taxpayers freedom from having to pay for other people’s personal choices,” the Yes on Measure 106 website reads.

It links to an Oregon Health Authority list of “therapeutic abortions” funded by the Oregon Health Plan, showing the state spent almost $2 million on 3,593 abortions in the 2017–2018 fiscal year alone. Since 2002, it says the state has spent $24.4 million on 57,000 abortions.

Katherine McDowell, the vice president for legal affairs of ACLU of Oregon, argued in an op-ed that the proposed amendment goes against the state’s Health Equity Act, passed last year, that prevents the state from restricting access to abortion, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

“Measure 106 partially repeals this new law,” she wrote.

The act, which starting next year will require private insurance plans to cover abortion without a co-pay, has made Oregon one of the most liberal states when it comes to abortion law. Already, women considering an abortion don’t have to go through a waiting period before the procedure, as some states require, and parents aren’t required to be notified if their underage child decides to get an abortion.

Last year, a Republican legislator introduced a bill that would ban abortions past 20 weeks, among other things, but it wasn’t voted on before the legislature adjourned and was never reintroduced.

Alabama

Measure 2 in Alabama would grant personhood to the unborn, amending the state’s constitution to “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” It goes on to say that no provisions of the state constitution, if passed, would guarantee the right to an abortion or require funding for abortions.

The sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Matt Fridy, a Republican, said he wanted the state to be ready in the event that Roe v. Wade were overturned, so that “the Alabama Constitution cannot be used as a mechanism by which to claim that there is a right to abortion,” reported Tuscaloosanews.com.

Since Justice Anthony Kennedy retired, setting the stage for the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, states have considered this pre-emptive action, known as a “trigger law,” both for and against abortion. While Justice Kavanaugh has said he understands the “importance of the precedent set forth in Roe v. Wade,” he stopped short of promising how he would vote on it were it to come before the Supreme Court, saying doing so would violate judicial norms.

President Donald Trump, who nominated Kavanaugh, has said he would put pro-life justices on the bench. With the confirmation of Trump’s other nominee, Neil Gorsuch, last April, the the majority of Supreme Court justices have been nominated by Republican presidents, all of whom are considered pro-life.

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