Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday that they will try to pass a bill during the current special session requiring insurers who cover maternity care – which Washington insurers are mandated to provide – to also pay for abortions.
The measure passed out of the House during the legislative session that ended March 8 but failed in the Senate after a dramatic attempt to bring it to the floor during a Republican budget coup failed by three votes.
“We need to get the bill to the floor of the Senate,” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma. “There are the votes on the floor of the Senate to pass this bill.”
One key vote is that of Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, who says he supports the bill but who voted to keep it from coming to the floor during the budget debate earlier this month.
He says that whether he votes for the bill to come to the floor during the special session depends on the circumstances.
“If it’s going to blow up a budget deal, then I won’t vote for it” to come to the floor, Tom said.
Supporters say the bill would ensure that existing abortion coverage will be preserved once federal health insurance rules come into effect in 2014 under national health care reform.
Under federal health reforms, insurers covering abortions will have to contend with added administrative hurdles. Because federal money may not be spent on abortion – a prohibition dating to 1976 – the insurers, under the federal reforms, will be required to collect two sets of premiums, one for abortion coverage and one for all other services. Abortion-rights advocates fear that insurance carriers may be tempted to free themselves of the added hassle and expense by eliminating abortion coverage.
Opponents counter that the measure may lead to more abortions and would lead to higher health care costs for all – claims muddied by the already wide availability of abortion in the state and the fact that abortions cost insurers less than do live births. They also say the measure would violate federal rules barring discrimination against insurers who don’t offer abortion coverage for moral reasons, putting at risk $6 billion in federal money.
Supporters say the state is protected by its existing conscience exemptions and note the bill has a self-destruct clause nullifying it in the event it were found to conflict with federal law.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a news conference last week that lawmakers should be focusing on the budget and a small list of related issues. Asked whether she would veto the bill if passed, she said it was unlikely it would make it out of the Legislature during the special session.
“Trust me,” she said. “It’s not going to pass.”
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