Washington: Bill Blocked That Forces Insurance Coverage of Abortion

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 2, 2013   |   3:34PM   |   Olympia, WA

A Washington Republican state lawmaker is standing tall and single-handedly thwarting a bill in the state legislature that would force insurance companies to pay for abortions.

The Reproductive Parity Act would force health insurance companies to offer coverage for elective abortions and will threaten freedom of conscience in the state. House Bill 1044 would create an unprecedented requirement in the State of Washington that all health plans that provide “coverage for maternity care or services must also provide a covered person with substantially equivalent coverage to permit the voluntary termination of a pregnancy.”  While the bill’s proponents claim to protect freedom of conscience, the bill in fact fails to provide adequate conscience protections, particularly for insurance carriers.

However, the chairwoman of the state Senate’s Health Care Committee, Sen. Randi Becker of Eatonville, is cutting a letter from U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers as the reason to hold up the bill. Rodgers wrote President Barack Obama a letter about the bill saying it could violate federal law.

As the Spokesman newspaper reports:

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.

The Seattle Times indicates Becker said the bill will not pass out of her committee.

“Even advocates of the bill admit that there is no need for the bill today, as every health insurer in the state of Washington provides for abortion coverage,” Becker said in a written statement. “As such, the decision of the committee is that the bill will not move forward from here this year.”

Her announcement makes clear that special measures would be required for the bill to get to the Senate floor for a vote.

“You all have the Second Amendment right to bear arms, to own a gun,” said Peggy O’Ban, spokeswoman for Human Life of Washington. “But does that mean I have to buy it for you?”

Shortly after the hearing, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, told bill opponents gathered in the hearing room that momentum was on their side but encouraged them to keep applying pressure on lawmakers to help ensure it doesn’t receive a vote in the full Senate.



Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute has also talked about the problems with the measure.

“The need for this bill is highly questionable because every insurance company in Washington currently offers abortion coverage,” he explained. “While providing additional benefits to no one, the bill simply takes away purchasing options from those who prefer not to subsidize abortion with their premiums.”

Abortion backers claim the bill doesn’t post any conscience issues for Washington residents, but the pro-life advocate disagrees.

Backholm continued: “However, the State of Washington, in the case Storman v. Selecky, argued for years that those same state laws protecting conscience rights still allow the state to force pharmacists to sell drugs that cause abortions in violation of their conscience. If they believe current conscience protections allow them to tell businesses what products they must sell, their willingness to extend those same conscience rights in this context shouldn’t be much comfort.

ACTION: To oppose the bill, Washington state residents are urged to call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email lawmakers here.