HARRISBURG - In the latest in a series of troubling votes on women's healthcare, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed legislation today to block insurance coverage of abortion care in the insurance exchange created by the federal healthcare reform law. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania was among the opponents of the bill, stating that it is a "radical expansion of government interference" in the private market.
"By banning insurance coverage of abortion care, the House has wandered into new territory," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "This is an extreme rollback of current state law, which is silent on the issue of private insurance coverage of abortion.
"The House simply cannot keep its hands off of women's healthcare."
The passage of House Bill 818 comes on the heels of multiple votes in the 2011-12 session to restrict women's access to reproductive healthcare. In that session, the House passed legislation to implement new, unnecessary regulations on women's health clinics, passed a previous version of the insurance exchange ban, and held a committee vote on forced ultrasounds for women seeking abortions.
The clinic regulations bill was also passed by the Senate and signed by Governor Corbett.
The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act addressed the issue of insurance coverage of abortion, under an amendment offered by conservative Democratic Senator Ben Nelson. The Nelson amendment requires that a customer who participates in the insurance exchange would submit a separate payment to cover the abortion provision of the policy, ensuring that public funds are not used for covering abortion care.
HB 818 goes much further by prohibiting insurance coverage of abortion in policies sold within the exchange altogether, with only very narrow exceptions for rape, incest, and imminent death of the woman.
"This bill even prohibits insurance coverage of abortion when the woman's health is at risk, such as with complications from cancer or diabetes," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The House members who supported this bill are either hopelessly naïve about the realities of women's health or exceptionally cruel. Either way, they have no business micromanaging women's healthcare from Harrisburg."
HB 818 now heads to the state Senate for its consideration. Earlier this month, a Senate committee passed an identical bill, Senate Bill 3, which is currently on the Senate calendar.