By Mike Baker
OLYMPIA — A Republican-dominated coalition in the Washington state Senate blocked discussion on a plan to require insurers to cover abortion Wednesday, voting down a procedural motion after a tense exchange about why the legislation has languished in the chamber.
Some Democrats in the Senate moved to take up an insurance bill ahead of a key cutoff, saying they planned to amend the measure to include the abortion rules. Republican Sen. Steve Litzow and Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom have both expressed support for the abortion insurance legislation, but they were both among those who voted to help narrowly defeat the effort.
In making her motion, Democratic Sen. Karen Keiser bemoaned that the majority coalition hadn’t allowed a vote on the bill, even though it appears to have enough support to pass the chamber. The abortion insurance bill has already passed the state House, and Gov. Jay Inslee has repeatedly urged the Senate to approve it.
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler sternly responded to Keiser, saying she was “impugning” her fellow senators. He urged colleagues to vote on the procedural aspect of the motion, not on the ultimate intent of the legislation.
Afterward, Republican Sen. Don Benton accused Democrats of trying to take advantage of the absence of GOP Sen. Mike Carrell, who has been ill. He said the efforts may force Senate leaders to ask Carrell to come to the chamber, potentially jeopardizing his health.
“It’s despicable,” Benton said.
Supporters say the measure would ensure continued abortion coverage in the state once federal health care reforms taking effect next year. Opponents counter that abortion insurance coverage is already widespread in the state and that the bill is unnecessary.
The bill would make Washington the first state to require insurers that cover maternity care to also pay for abortions.