A county in south central Wisconsin is now covering abortion-related travel for its employees.
Workers on Dane County’s health insurance plan can apply to be reimbursed for lodging and mileage if they travel out-of-state to terminate a pregnancy.
The policy takes effect retroactively to Jan. 1 and also covers spouses and dependents.
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Dane County supervisors voted late last year to allocate up to $20,000 for the reimbursement policy as part of the county’s annual budget, which was later signed by County Executive Joe Parisi.
“I consider abortion to be essential health care for roughly half of the population that can have children and can get pregnant,” said Supervisor Jacob Wright, a sponsor of the budget item.
County staff unveiled final policy language this summer, and the travel benefit became available to employees earlier this month, Dane’s Department of Administration Director Greg Brockmeyer announced in a July 19 email.
Laura Beutel is a Dane County resident, and also a county employee who works for the district attorney’s office.
Last year, she reached out to her county representative, Supervisor Mike Bare, to discuss how the county could support employees who travel out of state for abortions. Bare worked with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local chapter 720, of which Beutel is a member, to draft language.
“For women who were going through something that’s emotionally trying in itself, they didn’t need to have to worry about the financial burden of trying to leave the state,” Beutel said. “I wanted my employer to be a good example of what good employers are.”
After Roe v. Wade was overturned, a slew of major corporations promised to provide financial assistance to employees who travel for abortion.
“As an employer, the county has to keep up with the many private employers across the state who are already offering up a similar benefit,” said Bare, who’s also a Democratic member of Wisconsin’s state Assembly.
Bare says he’s not aware of localities that have adopted a policy like Dane County’s, although a similar proposal has at least been considered in another liberal Wisconsin county.
Supervisors in Milwaukee County have discussed setting aside an abortion travel fund for employees, although officials there raised concerns about legality under state law. In May, the Milwaukee County board voted to table the resolution and send it back to the county attorney for further analysis, Fox 6 News reported.
Under Dane County’s abortion travel plan, employees with single insurance can get be reimbursed up to $1,000 annually and those with family insurance can be reimbursed up to $2,000.
Those claims will be reviewed by the Employee Benefits Corporation rather than by county employees.
“The main consideration was ensuring that employees’ privacy was taken care of,” Bare said. “This is obviously a sensitive topic, a sensitive procedure, and that’s not something that any politicians, or really their managers, ought to be involved in.”
Clinics in Wisconsin stopped providing elective abortions last summer once the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but the procedure remains legal in all the states that border Wisconsin, including Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois.
In neighboring Iowa, abortion is currently legal until 20 weeks of pregnancy, after a judge there temporarily blocked what’s referred to as a fetal heartbeat law. That law banned abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is generally about six weeks into pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul is suing in Dane County Circuit Court in an attempt to block enforcement of a state law that was dormant for decades before Roe’s overturn. That 19th century law is widely interpreted as banning abortions unless they’re done to save a pregnant person’s life.
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