Bill seeks to protect coverage for abortions

Lawmakers fear federal health care reform could take away insurance mandate

msantos@theolympian.comJanuary 22, 2013 

Some state legislators are looking to ensure that women don’t lose insurance coverage for abortion under federal health care reforms.

The proposed legislation, dubbed the Reproductive Parity Act, would require any health insurance plan sold in Washington that covers maternity care to also cover the voluntary termination of a pregnancy.

In practice, the bill wouldn’t change much since all of the state’s health plans that now cover maternity care also cover abortions, said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

But sponsors worry that could change under the federal Affordable Care Act, which does not require insurance companies to cover abortions. Insurers could choose to drop abortion coverage, said Sen. Steve Hobbs, a Democrat from Lake Stevens who is sponsoring Senate Bill 5009.

Seventeen states have passed legislation restricting insurance coverage for abortion in the state insurance exchanges that will be launched in 2014 under Obamacare, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

If Washington passes the Reproductive Parity Act, it would be taking the opposite route.

“What we want to make sure is that the women of Washington state don’t lose any of their rights as we move into health care reform,” said Rep. Eileen Cody, a West Seattle Democrat who chairs the House Health Care & Wellness Committee. Cody is sponsoring House Bill 1044, the House version of the legislation.

“Just because you put the word abortion anywhere, it’s controversial,” Cody said. “It’s not controversial in any real way of changing things.”

Yet the Reproductive Parity Act has already caused a stir among Republicans, who objected to Gov. Jay Inslee’s enthusiastic support for it during his inaugural address last week. After Inslee’s speech, House Minority Leader Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said that Inslee turned a moment of unity into one of division by bringing up “special-interest politics.”

“Reproductive parity is way off my radar,” DeBolt said in an interview that day. “We are focused on the budget, jobs, public safety and education. I know it’s all they do is social issues, that’s how their bread is buttered. But we represent the people who want jobs.”

Abortion rights have the spotlight at the Capitol this week. A group of about 90 teens from Planned Parenthood’s Teen Council showed up Monday in Olympia to advocate for the bill and other reproductive rights issues.

Opponents of the bill are expected to make a much larger showing during today’s annual March for Life rally, which is expected to bring thousands of pro-life demonstrators to the Capitol. Today marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision supporting abortion.

Dan Kennedy, the chief executive officer of the Bellevue-based organization Human Life of Washington, wrote in an email that the bill “should be renamed the ‘State Coercion of Conscience Act.’”

“The abortion insurance mandate would coerce employers to pay for abortions and violate the long-recognized principle that freedom, if it means anything, surely means the liberty not to be forced by government to violate conscience in so profound a manner,” Kennedy wrote.

The bill contains language preserving the rights of organizations and individuals to refuse abortion coverage “based on conscience or religion” as well as the rights of religiously sponsored health carriers to deny payment for abortions.

But it may still run into some opposition in the state Senate, where Republican Randi Becker of Eatonville chairs the Senate Health Care Committee, and the new Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition has pledged to steer clear of social issues such as gun control and abortion.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209 msantos@theolympian.com

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