ATLANTA - Georgia will join seven other states that ban coverage of abortions in nearly all instances for those enrolled in the state employee health insurance plan.
The decision Thursday by the board of the Department of Community Health means the policy will bypass state lawmakers, who didn't take action on similar legislation earlier this year. In a statement, Gov. Nathan Deal took credit for finding a way to accomplish what he called a worthy goal.
"Today's vote by the Department of Community Health board shows our state's commitment to reducing the number of abortions in our state by ensuring that state taxpayers aren't paying for a procedure that many find morally objectionable," Deal said.
Under the policy, all abortion coverage would be banned in the state employee health plan except if the life of the mother is in danger. Currently, an estimated 672,000 members and dependents are enrolled in the state health plan.
The board voted 5-3, with one member abstaining. The changes are set to take effect in January 2014.
Data provided by the Department of Community Health shows 366 people under the state plan sought abortions in fiscal year 2011, a decline from 447 individuals in 2010 and 545 people in 2009. Net insurance payments for abortions declined to $213,000 in 2011 from $343,000 two years earlier.
Rep. Pat Gardner, D-Atlanta, said the board's action would be more restrictive than federal guidelines, which include abortions for rape and incest.
"I'm a big fan of this governor, and I think he's done some really good things on criminal justice and he's made some very tough decisions on things like education," Gardner said in an interview. "I don't agree with him on all the issues, but he has been very deliberate and very thoughtful. And this just smacks of electioneering. And that's disappointing to me."
Mike Griffin with Georgia Right to Life said the group was pleased.
"We've often wondered why in the world would taxpayers be interested in paying for insurance coverage that really isn't health care," Griffin said. "Health care is something to preserve life, not to destroy life."
Seven states restrict abortion coverage in insurance plans for public employees in all cases except when the mother's life is in danger, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Two states prohibit any abortion coverage in the state plans, while nine limit coverage to some combination of life endangerment, threat to the woman's health, rape, incest or fetal abnormality.