State lawmakers weigh new abortion rules

OLYMPIA — Washington state lawmakers considered proposed legislation Thursday that will require most health insurers offering maternity care to also cover elective abortions.

In a public hearing, the state House’s Health Care and Wellness Committee heard arguments from both sides of the abortion debate.

Supporters said the bill will preserve current abortion coverage once federal health insurance rules come into effect under the Affordable Care Act in 2014.

“This is to make sure that Washington women don’t wake up in 2014 and discover what they had on December 31, 2013, is gone,” said Elaine Rose, Chief Executive Officer of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. “It’s our way of preserving Washington state’s history and values.”

Opponents, badly outnumbered on a day when bad road conditions prevented many from making the trip to the Capitol, said the bill would force insurers and business owners to offer abortion coverage even if they oppose it on moral grounds.

“Abortion is an elective procedure,” said John Geis, director of governmental affairs for the Family Policy Institute of Washington. “It’s not necessary for health care, to make a person well or whole.”

Most individual and small group health care plans will face a federal requirement to provide maternity coverage starting in 2014.

Representative Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said he opposed the bill because it would expand abortion coverage, which he opposes, and because it would be expensive.

A federal provision known as the Hyde Amendment bars federal Medicaid funds from being used for abortions.

“This is another mandate,” Schmick said. “There will be a cost and it will be passed on to the insured public.”

However, he conceded, the measure will likely have the support necessary to be passed into law.

The state Senate was holding a public hearing on an identical bill Thursday afternoon.

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