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Sat., March 9, 2013

Keep options for all women

Starting next January, more than 300,000 Washington women will gain access to health insurance coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

For all of the great benefits the ACA has to offer – covering young people up until the age of 26, covering contraception without a co-pay – it does not guarantee women full access to all reproductive services, specifically abortion.

No woman anticipates facing the difficult decision of whether to have an abortion. The most careful couples conceive. Yet nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and nearly one in three American women will have an abortion by the age of 45.

Currently, most insurance plans in our state cover abortion, but they’re not required to do so. House Bill 1044 ensures reproductive parity by requiring all health plans that cover maternity care – whether bought by an individual or small or large employer – also cover the termination of a pregnancy.

We need this bill in Washington. A compromise was made to pass the Affordable Care Act that added significant barriers for insurance carriers that wish to continue to offer abortion coverage. Complicated accounting requirements are burdensome for the insurance industry, and that means they are unlikely to continue offering abortion coverage in the future – unless our state takes action.

If we don’t spell this benefit out in our state law, it could disappear in the very near future, reducing women’s freedom, privacy and economic access to the pregnancy decisions that are best for themselves and their families.

Recently, there have been numerous falsehoods about this bill advanced by those who wish to deny women the freedom and privacy to make their own medical decisions. In fact, the Reproductive Parity Act addresses all of the concerns we have heard.

First, opponents have wrongly claimed that this bill is unnecessary. Since the ACA passed, a growing list of states – at least 21 so far – have passed legislation to stop insurance companies from paying for abortion. In addition, in states that have enacted the same kinds of complicated accounting requirements as those in the ACA, like Nebraska and Oklahoma, insurance coverage for abortion has entirely disappeared from the market. Without the Reproductive Parity Act, there’s a good chance the same thing will happen here.

Second, it’s not true that the Reproductive Parity Act would risk any federal funding. Opponents inaccurately point to the federal Hyde/Weldon Amendments, which bar the use of federal funds for abortion services and allow health care entities to refuse to provide or cover abortions in certain circumstances.  The bill addresses these amendments explicitly and ensures that federal funding is not at risk.

Third, the bill does respect the religious views of those who oppose abortion. The Reproductive Parity Act reaffirms the laws in our state that protect the right of conscience. Furthermore, the ACA requires there be a plan available in the exchange that excludes abortion coverage. House Bill 1044 doesn’t change this. Any religious employer that objects to providing insurance coverage for abortion will still be able to buy an insurance plan in the new Health Benefit Exchange that doesn’t contain abortion coverage.

This simple, common-sense bill will ensure that women, not their insurance plan or their government, can make their own medical decisions. Women know what’s best for themselves and their families, and no woman’s pregnancy decision should be coerced by what her insurance will cover.

We have a long history in our state of upholding reproductive freedom and privacy, and ensuring that all women have the ability to make the best pregnancy decisions for themselves and their family.

Terminating a pregnancy is a personal decision that should be left up to the woman facing a pregnancy, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor.

The state Senate must stop playing games with women’s health and pass the Reproductive Parity Act. Our wives, sisters and daughters deserve guaranteed coverage for all reproductive health care services, including the personal, often complex and ultimately legal decision to have an abortion.

Mike Kreidler is the Washington State Insurance Commissioner. Jeff Sprung, a partner at the law firm Hagens Berman, sits on the board of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest.

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