LARAMIE — Though the Wyoming House and Senate have differences in their versions of the state’s budget bill, the chambers agreed to one significant last-minute change affecting the University of Wyoming’s funding — one that has essentially nothing to do with the university’s budget.
Both versions of the budget bill were amended to make the Legislature’s roughly $446 million biennial appropriation for the university contingent on a new rule: The university cannot “expend any general funds, federal funds or other funds under its control” on “group health insurance that provides coverage of elective abortions for students.”
The university’s student health care plans are now funded through the premiums students pay, not the Legislature’s block grant. Getting insurance through the university is voluntary for all students except some international students.
The initiative to address abortion in the budget bill came from Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, who in 2019 asked the Legislative Service Office, known as the LSO, to analyze how UW Student Health Services handles abortion.
The LSO told Gray in July that while Student Health Services doesn’t provide abortions, UW student insurance provided through UnitedHealthcare does, in fact, cover both “medically necessary abortion under complications of pregnancy and elective abortion, subject to all other requirements of the policy (deductible, copay, in and outside of network rates, etc.).”
Gray proposed an amendment during the House’s second reading of the budget bill last week to prevent UW insurance from covering abortion.
Both amendments passed by the House and Senate carry an identical carveout: Students’ insurance can still cover abortions when “the life of the mother would be endangered if the unborn child was carried to full term,” and in situations in which the fetus was conceived through incest or sexual assault.
Initially, members of the JAC pushed back on the amendment. Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said the proposal was “really legislating in the budget bill and really should’ve been its own bill.”
However, the amendment’s backers succeeded in framing the amendment as a litmus test on abortion for the chamber. They asked for a roll call vote and said their colleagues should be held accountable for their votes.
Ultimately, Larsen joined 36 other House members in voting “aye” to pass the amendment.
On Friday, Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, also introduced an identical version of the Gray amendment in the Senate, which passed on a 15-13 vote.
Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said he supported the amendment because he feels it’s unfair that in order for anti-abortion students to participate in UW’s current health care plan they’d have to participate in an insurance pool that funds abortions.