Wash. Senator Blocks Advancement of Abortion Coverage Bill

April 2, 2013 — Washington Senate Health Care Committee Chair Randi Becker (R) on Monday blocked legislation (HB 1044) that would require health plans to cover abortion services from advancing to the full Senate, even though a majority of senators support the measure, the AP/Yakima Herald reports.

Becker's announcement means that special actions would be necessary to advance the bill to the Senate floor, according to the AP/Yakima Herald. Twenty-five of 49 state senators have pledged support for the measure, according to a March 5 letter that was made public at a committee hearing on Monday. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) also supports the bill and has repeatedly called on the Senate to vote on it.

The House-approved Reproductive Parity Act aims to ensure the availability of abortion coverage in Washington after provisions of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) take effect in 2014 (Kaminsky, AP/Yakima Herald, 4/1). Under the ACA, private health plans in states' health insurance marketplaces must segregate the premiums they collect for abortion coverage from other payments, which could serve as a disincentive to offer the coverage (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/26).

The bill stands in contrast to actions in other states to impose additional restrictions on abortion coverage, the New York Times reports. Since the passage of the ACA, at least 17 states have enacted laws restricting abortion coverage in their insurance marketplaces, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said the ACA threatens to "complicate" access to abortion coverage in Washington. "Today every carrier and nearly every plan in Washington already covers abortion," she said in testimony before the committee, adding that the bill "will keep it that way"(Johnson, New York Times, 4/1).

Monday's Hearing

After the health committee heard testimony on the measure, Becker released a statement saying that the panel would not act on the bill. "[T]here is no need for the bill today as every health insurer in the state of Washington provides for abortion coverage," she wrote (AP/Yakima Herald, 4/1).

Becker also cited a letter by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) to President Obama claiming that the legislation could violate federal law. Rodgers argued that the bill omits protections for employers with religious objections to offering abortion coverage (Camden, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 4/2).

Supporters of the bill expressed frustration after the hearing, which drew nearly 250 people. "It was simply a way to provoke a circus in the sense of having a lot of people show up and wave their ideological persuasions in front of us," said state Sen. Karen Keiser (D), a member of the health committee (AP/Yakima Herald, 4/1).