Gordon lets UW abortion rule become law

LARAMIE -- Gov. Mark Gordon declined to veto a controversial part of this biennium’s budget that prevents the University of Wyoming’s student insurance from covering abortions.

Gordon signed the state’s budget bill into law on Thursday, the last day of 2020’s legislative session.

As part of the bill, legislators included a footnote that makes UW’s $445 million biennial appropriation contingent on UW not expending “any general funds, federal funds or other funds under its control” on “group health insurance that provides coverage of elective abortions for students.”

None of the funding in the budget bill is used for those student health plans.

According to the Legislative Service Office, while Student Health Services doesn’t provide abortions, UW student insurance provided through United-Healthcare 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.).”

Aside from ideological opposition, critics of the footnote said it’s an inappropriate example of “legislating within the budget;” in signing off on the budget bill, Gordon did make 21 individual line-item vetos, justifying a few by saying the vetoed language involved “substantive law” that should be the “subject of a stand alone bill” — the same procedural rationale for which the abortion footnote has been criticized.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, has doubted the abortion footnote’s constitutionality.

Currently, UW’s student health care plans are 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.

Gordon also allowed the budget to include a mandate for a study to examine UW’s governance structure and compare it to the “best practices of other land grant universities’ governance structures that could be adopted to maximize efficient operations.”

That came last-minute amendment to the state’s budget bill, with the proposal’s backers expressing a vague lack of confidence in UW’s leadership, especially in the wake of former President Laurie Nichols’s 2019 ouster.

Gordon vetoed other studies Thursday, saying they’re unnecessary examples of spending in difficult financial times for the state.

However, unlike other studies Gordon vetoed, the final budget bill does not include an appropriation for the UW study and, instead, tasks the Legislature’s Management Council with contracting for that study.

In total, the budget bill included almost $100 million extra in funding for UW besides its $350.8 million block grant.