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Abortion the hot topic at city commission meeting

A push to further define the types of abortion allowed under city healthcare plans falls flat.

/Jon Dunn

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About thirty members of the community addressed the City Commission Tuesday night, all coming to Mulick Park Elementary School (1761 Rosewood Ave) on the southeast side of the city over the issue of abortion and the city's coverage of the procedure under the healthcare plan.

First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer suggested last month that the city's healthcare coverage be rewritten. Currently only abortions that are 'medically necessary' are to be covered by city healthcare plans, Shaffer and others were hoping the city could further define that language. 

Commissioner Shaffer said he believes the conditions for an allowed abortion should only be in those times of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger. Many in the crowd were against the proposal from the Comissioner, with many wearing pink t-shirts and stickers stating their support for women's health and Planned Parenthood.

However, not all were against. Grand Rapids resident Barb Hickadee spoke to the Commission while holding a wooden cross.

"Mr. Mayor, you said you didn't want this to go on forever. Death goes on forever. Abortion is death." She continued, "your decision here is not about whether abortion is right or wrong. It's about using our tax money that is supposed to be used to run the city. Abortion will not run the city."

Calvin College professor David Urban agreed with that point.

"This is a disagreement on principle, this is not a war on women. Mr. Shaffer is standing on principle and asking for a reasonable discussion on this issue." He continued, "It's not a waste of time to discuss this. We should have discussed this a long time ago."

Many proponents of the change to the coverage believed that it was about tax dollars going towards an abortion. However, Kent County Commissioner Candace Chivas disagreed.

"This is not about tax funded abortion; this is part of a benefits package. I certainly hope the city commission wouldn't reach into people's personal lives if say a male wanted to get a sterilization procedure."

Another resident, Danielle Vilella from SE also agreed, saying this was about a women's personal choice with their healthcare provider, not an issue for politicians.

"Efforts to ban abortion coverage for female employees of the city is a gross overreach of the Commission's power. I elect you to make Grand Rapids a better place to liveI do not vote for you to determine which medical procedures are necessary for city employees."

When all was said and done, just over an hour of passionate testimony on both sides of the issue had been heard. Per the rules for the Commission, Commissioner Shaffer first had to request a suspension of the commission rules that would allow him to ask for a vote. Mayor George Heartwell asked for other members of the Commission to voice their support for the suspension, no other member spoke up. And with that, Commissioner Shaffer's effort failed. 

"This is part of our public process. I put a resolution forward and it wasn't supported or seconded, so that means it is where it is," Shaffer said after the meeting.

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