Anti-Abortion Activists Blast Opt-Out Insurance Clause at University of N. Carolina

Anti-abortion activists are blasting the University of North Carolina decision to give students the option of dropping abortion coverage from their university-sponsored health insurance, while requiring them to still pay the full premium.

There will be no price break for students who opt out of the abortion provision, the activists complain. And, despite reassurances from university officials, they say they are concerned that the insurance plan will comingle funds, essentially using the premiums paid by pro-life students to help pay for abortions.

"We are not satisfied. Abortion is not health care," said Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America, a Virginia-based organization that seeks to stop abortions. "We don't think abortions should ever have been included in health care plans."

Following complaints last week, Erskine Bowles, the president of the University of North Carolina school system, directed Pearce and Pearce, Inc., the South Carolina company that provides its insurance plan, to give students an opportunity to opt-out of a provision that would pay up to $500 per abortion, with a 20 percent deductible. The UNC school system consists of 16 four-year public universities throughout the state.

Effective this fall, under a new policy that was approved by the UNC Board of Governors one year ago, all UNC system students must have health insurance. They can opt out of the university plan, which costs roughly $350 per semester, if they provide proof of insurance from another source -- for example, a parent's policy. As of Wednesday, more than 102,000 of roughly 225,000 students in the school system had elected not to utilize the university's plan, said Joni Worthington, a UNC spokeswoman.

But students who choose to drop the abortion provision from their university plan will not see a decrease in their premiums, Hawkins noted.

"Wouldn't their policy be less because they're getting less service?" she asked. "They need to show us how those plans are really segmented."

Hawkins questioned why students who chose the UNC plan were automatically opted into the abortion provision prior to Bowles' directive. She said she also was concerned that the university's insurance plan will comingle funds, making it impossible to determine whose premium pays for what procedures, including abortion.

But university officials say students who opt out of the elective abortion benefit and those who do not will be listed under different policy groupings.

"Whenever a student files a claim, that claim will be compared against the benefits included in the student's policy grouping," Worthington wrote in an e-mail to "Utilization of this elective benefit will be paid from the premiums within the grouping of students who did not opt out."

Worthington's e-mail continued, "Since including the elective abortion benefit had no actuarial impact on the premium charged for the plan, neither will removing it."

Roughly 38 percent of public four-year colleges require that students have health insurance, up from less than 25 percent in 2006, according to a 2008 survey by the American College Health Association (ACHA). Approximately 79 percent of private universities require coverage, the survey found.

ACHA representatives said they did not have information regarding elective abortion coverage within university-sponsored health insurance plans nationwide. Hawkins said her organization is compiling data and soliciting information from students across the country on the policies offered by their colleges or universities. Hawkins said the group also is investigating whether any of the policies violate federal law banning taxpayer-funded abortions.

"We don't want abortion in any health care policy," she said. "I feel like they're pushing some sort of an agenda here. By offering abortion in their health care policy, that's having an agenda."

In a statement posted on the Students for Life of America's website, Sarah Hardin, president of the Virginia-based organization's North Carolina chapter, said she was "dumbfounded" when she learned of the new policy.

"As a pro-life student at NC State, I am dismayed that my classmates will not only be forced to purchase health insurance, but will also be forced to pay into a pool that will go to aborting the children of other North Carolina students," she wrote.

The group's website also features the personal account of Jordon Greene, a 22-year-old political science major at University of North Carolina at Charlotte who serves as the organization's treasurer for that campus.

"Jordon's parents can't cover him on their health insurance plan," the website reads. "So after researching private health care plans in North Carolina, Jordon discovered that he is forced by the new policy to purchase a health care plan he is morally opposed too. [sic]"

The statement continued, "UNC is forcing Jordon to either buy an abortion health care plan, go broke paying for a plan he cannot afford, or drop out of school. Financially, he has no other choice."