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Bill links maternity, abortion coverage

Fri., Jan. 20, 2012

OLYMPIA – Nearly all medical insurance plans in Washington that offer maternity care would be required to cover abortions under a bill supporters described as a minor adjustment to conform with new federal laws but opponents denounced as an infringement on religious liberties.

House Bill 2330 has broad support in the House, where it has 33 co-sponsors. But it’s also a target of abortion opponents who held their annual rally earlier this week on the Capitol steps.

The proposal would require any health care plan that covers maternity care to cover abortion procedures also. Right now, some plans cover both, other plans cover neither, and some cover maternity care but exclude abortion, either because the plan covers a religiously sponsored organization or the employer opts for a plan without abortion coverage.

The change comes into play because the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law that some Republicans call Obamacare, requires all new insurance plans to cover maternity care starting in 2014. If the bill passes, most would also be required to cover abortion; only the exemption for religiously sponsored organizations would continue.

There’s nothing very complicated about the proposal, said Lisa Stone, executive director of Legal Voice, a group that advocates for women’s rights. Washington voters legalized abortion three years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and have supported it since then, she said.

Every insurance carrier in Washington has plans that cover abortion, although not all the plans they offer include it, she told the House Health Care and Wellness Committee Thursday. “Essentially, what this will do is level the playing field.”

State Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, disagreed: “We are taking a big step forward to say every plan covers abortion.”

John Geis of the Family Policy Institute said the bill will actually limit the choices for business owners who oppose abortion but don’t have a religious affiliation that would exempt them from paying for that coverage.

The committee hasn’t yet scheduled a vote on the bill.

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