The Senate Republicans will begin discussions this week about
legislation that bans abortion coverage in the health insurance exchanges.
The state House of Representatives passed the legislation last week. A similar measure overwhelmingly won strong support in the Senate in the last legislative session, but it failed to become law.
Its sponsor, Sen. Don White, R-Indiana County, reintroduced the legislation again this year but is now urging passage of the House bill instead.
Proponents of the bill are hopeful the Senate will act swiftly to move the House bill to Gov. Tom Corbett. The governor has indicated he would sign it.
The measure would prohibit health insurers participating in taxpayer-subsidized health insurance exchanges from providing coverage for abortions in most instances. Exceptions are allowed in cases where the life of the mother is at risk, rape and incest.
Proponents made it clear in last week's lengthy and oft-times heated House debate on the bill that they saw it as merely extending the current state policy regarding abortion funding to the federal health care law.
Opposing lawmakers argued the intention behind it was bigger than that. They insisted it was aimed at further eroding women's ability to access safe abortion services.
The exchanges are created under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care and are slated to become operational in January 2014.
Out of a desire to get a law in place before the exchanges occur, White's chief of staff Joe Pittman said the senator is willing to advance the House bill and back off his own bill that passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, which he chairs, by an 8-5 vote earlier this month.
One of the senators voting against White's bill in committee was Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County. However, she voted for the ban on abortion coverage in health insurance exchanges when the Senate passed it in 2011.
Phone messages left on Thursday and Friday for Vance seeking an explanation on her changing view were not returned.
Freshman Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin County, opposes this restriction on abortion coverage.
"I think we have to make sure that women can make their own health choices without influence by government and I think that these attempts to use the new health insurance law to influence those decisions, not just on choosing to end a pregnancy but also to use contraception in the first place, is inappropriate," Teplitz said.
Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, is an anti-abortion supporter through and through and said he is likely a "yes" vote on the bill as he was two years ago.
"I care about women's health but we have made abortions the rule rather than the exception and we do way too many of them," Folmer said. "I definitely don't want public dollars going to pay for them."
All midstate Republican House members voted in favor of the bill that passed by a 144-53 vote. Democratic Reps. Patty Kim of Harrisburg and Mike Sturla of Lancaster cast opposing votes.
In justifying Corbett's support for the measure, administration spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said the legislation would not impose any greater restriction on access to abortion services than already exists under the state's abortion control law. That law bars the use of public money to pay for abortions except in the same instances mentioned in the House-passed bill.
Maria Vitale Gallagher, legislative director of Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, noted enacting this measure into law will bring Pennsylvania into the company of 21 other states that have laws on the books that restrict abortion coverage through the health insurance exchanges.
She called the measure critical legislation that is good for taxpayers.
During the House debate, supporters said if individuals want insurance that covers abortions, they could buy that coverage outside of the exchange.
But Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, calls that disingenuous. She said no such policies exist and there's no indication insurers plan to offer them. Nor she said is there reason to think women would seek out a separate policy providing that coverage.
For her, this legislation is an attempted overreach by government to tell people how they can spend their own money when it comes to buying health insurance.
"I can't take my check and buy my insurance with the coverage I want if I get my insurance through the exchange because the Legislature thinks I shouldn't be able to," Stevens said. "That's wrong."
(c)2013 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)
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