Abortion insurance bill dies in state Senate

OLYMPIA — A bill to require insurance plans covering maternity care to also pay for abortions is likely stalled for this legislative session after it failed to advance to the floor Friday in the Washington state Senate.

The bill was caught up in a late-afternoon Republican budget coup, in which the GOP peeled off the necessary three Democratic votes to introduce an austere budget plan.

The abortion measure, HB 2330, had passed the House, and Democrats expected it to have the votes necessary in the Senate. But two attempts to bring it to the floor were narrowly voted down in the aftermath of the budget coup.

Friday at 5 p.m. was the cutoff to introduce non-budgetary bills to the floor of either legislative chamber.

Among those professing support for the bill but voting against it coming to the floor was Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island. Litzow said allowing debate and a vote on the bill would have unacceptably opened the floodgates for other bills.

“I am really disappointed that the Democrat leadership couldn’t get this bill to the floor,” said Litzow, asserting that it should have been introduced days or even weeks earlier.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, rejected this line of reasoning.

“The toughest bills are always at the last,” she said. “Always.”

Also voting against attempts to bring the bill to the floor were the three Democrats joining the Republicans in the budget debate. Among those, Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, expressed guarded support for the bill in an interview earlier this week and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, was endorsed by NARAL ProChoice Washington in his latest election bid.

The bill is likely dead for this session but could be taken up again in a special session.

Supporters say the bill would ensure continued access to abortion coverage once federal health care reforms are enacted and the state sets up an online insurance exchange in 2014. Its passage would have made the state the first to require all health insurance plans under its jurisdiction — except those claiming a conscience-based exemption — to include abortion coverage. Washington state currently mandates that insurers cover maternity care.

By contrast, 15 states have passed laws restricting insurers from covering abortions and 12 others are considering similar measures.

Opponents argue the measure would violate federal rules barring discrimination against insurers who don’t offer abortion coverage for moral reasons. A self-destruct clause in the bill would nullify it in the event it were found to conflict with federal law.

“I’m disappointed,” said Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, who sponsored the bill. “We still have time next year, but I’m worried about how insurance companies will be setting up their plans” in preparation for the exchange.

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