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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington state senator stalls abortion coverage bill

OLYMPIA – A Republican state senator is blocking legislation that would require health insurance companies to cover abortion, denying a vote on a bill even though a majority of Washington senators expressed support.

And helping to clog the bill further from afar was Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane.

Weighing in on state politics, McMorris Rodgers sent President Barack Obama a letter warning that her state’s coverage plan working its way through the Washington Legislature could violate federal law.

In Olympia, the chairwoman of the state Senate’s Health Care Committee, Sen. Randi Becker of Eatonville, cited the letter as one reason the bill would not be brought to a vote in the panel.

In a two-hour committee hearing Monday, regular supporters and foes of abortion lined up for or against the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require most insurance plans that offer maternity benefits in Washington to cover abortion, too.

The panel heard from religious leaders on opposing sides. Seattle’s Catholic Archbishop Peter Sartain argued the bill would make insurance coverage of abortion mandatory in Washington, even for employers with religious objections to abortion. Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Olympia said the bill should be passed to provide “freedom of religion and freedom from religion.”

It heard from dueling women’s groups. Elaine Rose of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest acknowledged that nearly every insurance plan offered in Washington covers abortion, and the bill was designed to “keep it that way” as federal health care reform proceeds. Angela Connolly of the Washington Women’s Network called the bill “anti-woman” because it forces them to “participate in what they see as violence against women.”

Becker sometimes had to remind speakers to stick to the bill rather than veering into the bigger controversies over abortion, like when one abortion foe started discussing policies of Nazi Germany.

In the hearing room, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, released a copy of the letter McMorris Rodgers sent Obama on Monday declaring the bill has “far-reaching and alarming consequences for the citizens of Washington state who embrace life.”

McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from the district that includes Spokane, said the bill does not satisfy federal restrictions on “conscience rights,” the protection for people who have religious objections to abortion to opt out of insurance plans. That could jeopardize federal funds for welfare, jobs and education, she said. McMorris Rodgers, a regular critic of Obama’s health care policies, said both Congress and the administration have “constitutional roles to uphold and enforce … conscience protections.”

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, told the committee about a different letter, signed by 25 senators willing to vote for the bill. That would be enough to pass the bill  if it comes to the floor. Gov. Jay Inslee has promised to sign it.

But the easiest path to a floor vote comes if the committee passes the bill before Wednesday, the deadline for committees to pass legislation from another chamber.

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