OLYMPIA — Abortion rights supporters and opponents packed a Washington state house hearing Thursday and debated a measure that would require insurers to pay for the procedure.
Supporters call the bill the Reproductive Parity Act and say it’s intended to preserve existing abortion coverage once new health insurance rules come into effect under the federal health care law.
Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, the bill’s sponsor, says the proposal is needed because the Affordable Care Act will present insurers with red tape that may tempt them to drop abortion coverage from their plans.
Under Cody’s measure, insurers who provide maternity care, which is required in Washington state, will also be compelled to pay for abortions.
Starting next year, insurers will be required to collect two sets of premiums, one for abortion coverage and another for all other care.
Cody said she is unaware of any carrier contemplating dropping abortion coverage.
At least 17 states have passed laws prohibiting insurance plans available for purchase on the state health care exchanges that will come online as part of the federal health care law from covering abortion.
This measure would make Washington state the first to do the opposite, though two federally mandated multi-state insurance plans, as well as those offered by providers claiming religious or conscience-based exemptions, would be excluded.
Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said that other states are considering similar legislation to Washington’s but that she is not aware of such bills having been introduced.
Opponents of House Bill 1044 used the hearing to say it was wrong to force businesses and women who oppose abortion to pay for coverage for a procedure they equate with murder.
“This bill would force me to buy something I do not believe in,” said Kimmy Jones, 28, a stay-at-home mother from Rainier, Wash.
Detractors also said that an exemption for insurance providers on conscience or religious grounds was not strong or broad enough.
Jonathan Bechtle, CEO of the Freedom Foundation, a fiscally conservative group that takes no position on abortion, said his group also opposes the measure.
“Whatever one thinks about the morality of this issue, forcing businesses and individuals to follow one rule reduces competition, reduces choice and reduces innovation,” Bechtle said.
Supporters, for their part, told members of the House’s Health and Wellness Committee that women in the state should be able to make decisions about abortion without fearing that their insurance won’t cover it.
Rose said her group wants to make sure women have access to insurance that “allows them to make the decision that’s best for them and their families, with their God and their doctors.”
A similar measure passed out of the Democratic-controlled House last year but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
Its fate will likely be determined in the Senate again this year, where a Republican-dominated majority has taken control.
A Senate version of the bill has 22 co-sponsors, leaving it in need of three votes.