Auto Workers Press for Abortion Coverage

August 21, 2003 ( - Injecting a potential political hot potato into its national union contract talks, the UAW is demanding that several of the nation's automakers cover voluntary abortions as part of their health coverage packages.

The auto union made the potentially explosive request to General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group during talks about health care coverage, officials told the Detroit Free Press. They did not know whether it was also made to Ford Motor Co. during contract talks, which began in mid-July.

The issue was raised in the UAW’s initial proposals presented to the automakers in late July. At Chrysler, the union asked the automaker to “expand benefits related to reproductive services.” At GM, the UAW requested that “professional fees for elective pregnancy termination be covered.” The UAW later clarified it sought coverage of elective or voluntary abortions. Currently, health care plans for UAW workers cover abortions in certain circumstances, such as where medically necessary or determined by a physician, company officials said.

The four-year UAW national contract with the former Big Three and two suppliers, which covers 307,000 workers and 522,000 retirees, surviving spouses and dependents, expires September 14.

The demand is already attracting outside attention. It prompted Monica Migliorino Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, which says it has about 5,000 members in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, to plan a picket outside of UAW Solidarity House in Detroit within the next few weeks. If any automaker agreed to cover abortions, she said, “It could be a dangerous precedent.” Miller also was planning to contact UAW members who oppose abortion in an attempt to derail the proposal.

The request for expanded reproductive benefits comes at a time when Detroit’s automakers are trying to cut back their health care expenses, which topped $8.7 billion in 2002.

The UAW has also requested that GM begin covering contraceptive medicines and devices, which they currently do not. Ford expanded its health care coverage for hourly UAW workers to include prescription contraceptives in 2000; Chrysler followed suit in 2002.

It may be hard for automakers to adopt the abortion proposal even if they wanted to. Several states have laws forbidding insurance coverage of abortions in most cases. Four states bar abortion coverage in all insurance policies, except when a woman’s life is in danger, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That includes Kentucky and Missouri, where domestic automakers have plants, as well as Idaho and North Dakota.