A controversial bill to restrict abortion coverage in health insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act is moving through the state legislature.
A Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Don White (R., Armstrong), would prohibit insurance plans offered under the federally mandated exchange programs from cover abortions except in cases where the life of the mother is threatened or in cases of rape or incest.
“Under the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, states have the authority to prohibit certain abortion coverage made available in these taxpayer subsidized health plans and we intend to exercise that authority,” Senator White said. “This is not a new step for Pennsylvania, but rather a continuation of existing law.”
A similar bill is slated for action in the House next week.
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood are fighting to stop the bill, arguing it would create a two-tier system: one for individuals- many of them lower income but who would still pay a portion of the premiums - covered under the Affordable Care Act and another for those with private coverage.
"We oppose this bill as yet another new restriction on a woman's access to reproductive health care," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Insurance plans typically cover abortion care today. Now for first time that someone who pays for insurance for own money would not get coverage of abortion."
No state or federal money is used to cover abortion services under the exchanges, said Magige Groff, vice president of externam affairs for Planned Parenthood of southeastern Pennsylvania.
"That was one of the major sticking points federal ACA anti-choice Democrats were concerned a woman has to make a separate for abortion service coverage," said Groff."The law requires a woman pay with her own money, so with this bill you won't be able to buy comprehsneive ob-gyn insurance under the exchange."
Hoover said the bill as the most recent example of conservative lawmakers trying to restrict access to abortion coverage.
"Once again this is making abortion coverage as part of comprehensive health care something for people of means," he said.
White said his bill does not seek to bar abortions in Pennsylvania, only to ensure no tax dollars are used.
“I want to make this clear, Senate Bill 3 does not ban abortions, nor does it bar insurance coverage offered in the private sector from covering abortions,” White said. “This legislation extends our existing law on the use of taxpayer dollars for elective abortions to health insurance exchanges.”
Some 17 other states have approved similar restrictions.
Similar bills introduced in the House and Senate failed last year, but with the exchanges set to start in 2014, its supporters are optimistic about the bill's success.
"I think that it is more likely that one version of this bill or another will make it to the governor's desk this year," Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson told WITF.
A similar bill sponsored by Rep. Donna Oberlander (R., Armstrong) is scheduled for consideration in the House health committee on Monday.
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