May 13, 2011 — The Nebraska Legislature on Thursday voted 37-7 to pass a bill (LB 22) that would prohibit private health plans sold in the state from covering abortion care, unless the procedure would save a woman's life, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Beau McCoy, also would apply to group health plans offered through the state health insurance exchanges to be established by 2014 under the federal health reform law (PL 111-148). Women would need to buy separate policy riders to obtain abortion coverage.
The bill would not apply to self-insured group health plans, which are regulated by the federal government rather than the state. Existing state law prohibits publicly funded health plans from providing abortion coverage.
The bill advances to Gov. Dave Heineman (R), who is expected to sign it into law (Stoddard, Omaha World-Herald, 5/13).
N.C. Lawmakers Consider Various Bills Restricting Abortion Access
North Carolina lawmakers are considering several bills that, if enacted, would signal an "about-face" on abortion-rights policy in the state, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
The House recently added provisions to its state budget that would block Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state from receiving state grants or federal grants that flow through the state. The grants are used for teen pregnancy prevention and women's health programs, according to the News & Observer. Another provision included in the House budget plan would bar the state employee health insurance plan from covering abortion services. The News & Observer reports that the plan covers 663,000 state employees and their dependents and paid for 161 abortions last year (Bonner, Raleigh News & Observer, 5/11).
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 9-5 on a bill (HB 854) that would require a woman to receive an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before receiving abortion care. The bill would require that the abortion provider describe the ultrasound image. Although the woman would not have to watch the ultrasound screen or listen to the description, she would have to sign a document acknowledging that the description was provided, and the document would have to be kept on file for at least seven years. The woman also would have to be provided with state-mandated counseling 24 hours prior to the procedure (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/11). Legislative budget analysts estimate that the new requirements would lead to about 2,900 additional births annually, half of which would be paid for by Medicaid or other public health insurance programs. The measure would cost taxpayers $6.7 million in the first year and $35 million over five years, the analysts said (Dalesio, AP/TheSunNews, 5/11).
On Tuesday, a House committee discussed a bill that would authorize the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue "Choose Life" licenses plates to fund not-for-profit groups that advocate against abortion rights. During the discussion to authorize numerous specialty plates, the panel rejected including a "Trust Women; Respect Choice" plate to support Planned Parenthood (Raleigh News & Observer, 5/11).
In addition, earlier this month, Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) signed into law a bill (HB 215) that creates separate criminal offenses in cases of crimes committed against pregnant women, for the injury or death of a fetus at any stage of development, including if the woman or the perpetrator of the crime was unaware of the pregnancy (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/2).
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) said he expects the Senate to pass many of the abortion restrictions if they make it out of the House. However, he noted that the Senate has prioritized the budget and other issues over abortion bills (Raleigh News & Observer, 5/11).
Sponsor of Ohio 'Heartbeat' Bill Rejects Informed Consent Amendment
Ohio Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R) -- sponsor of a bill (HB 125) that would ban abortion once a fetus' heartbeat is audible -- rejected an amendment proposed by the Ohio Right to Life Society that would require a woman seeking abortion services to be notified if the heartbeat is detected and then sign a form indicating that she was told, the Dayton Daily News reports.
Wachtmann was scheduled to meet with the group on Thursday. The organization suggested the changes in a letter to Wachtmann, saying, "ORTL could support the heartbeat bill if it were an informed consent heartbeat bill only." The bill has passed the Senate but has languished in the House, according to the Daily News (Hershey, Dayton Daily News, 5/11). ORTL opposes Wachtmann's bill because of concerns that it would be struck down by the courts.
While Wachtmann's measure has at least 50 supporters in the House and gained approval from the House Health and Aging Committee in March, it has not been scheduled for a vote. House Speaker William Batchelder (R) would not speculate about scheduling a vote.
Also on Wednesday, abortion-rights supporters joined NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio to rally against several antiabortion-rights measures in the state Legislature, including the so-called heartbeat bill. Kellie Copeland, executive director of the group sponsoring the rally, said to lawmakers, "Keep your promises and work on jobs and the economy and trust women to do the rest." Antiabortion-rights groups staged a counter-protest (Candisky, Columbus Dispatch, 5/11).