House gives first OK to ban on insurers covering abortion,
The Texas House gave initial approval Tuesday to a bill that would ban insurers from covering abortions in general plans, turning aside Democratic amendments to exempt pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or fetuses with fatal medical conditions.
House Bill 214 would prohibit general abortion coverage in private health plans, state-offered insurance and insurance acquired through the Affordable Care Act, unless a woman’s life is in danger. Women who want the coverage would have to purchase a supplemental plan, if one is offered by their insurer.
The bill’s Republican author, Rep. John Smithee of Amarillo, said the legislation is intended to protect abortion opponents from subsidizing a procedure they oppose.
“It’s a question of economic freedom, and freedom in general,” Smithee said, adding that private plan members pay into the same risk pool for coverage, and taxpayer money subsidizes insurance for government employees. “This is a life issue. All we’re talking about here is who is going to be forced to pay.”
Democrats criticized HB 214 as unnecessary and another legislative roadblock to a legal procedure.
“This bill is not about the safety of women or supporting Texas families,” said Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio. “This bill is about denying Texas women their right to a safe abortion.”
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, called the bill “another notch in the belt” for abortion opponents.
“This does appear to be strictly a political bill that has no real impact except perhaps to harass people again,” Howard said.
Republicans turned aside seven Democratic amendments that would have loosened the bill’s restrictions, with the day’s sharpest clash devoted to a proposal by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, to exempt pregnancies resulting from rape or incest from the abortion insurance ban.
Smithee opposed the amendment, saying there are three parties in those situations — “the father,” who is guilty, and the mother and child, who are innocent. “I ask you to consider those of us who have moral, religious, even philosophical objections (to abortion),” he said. “Try to be understanding of our belief.”
“Are you suggesting I would have to force my daughter to continue a pregnancy from a rapist?” Howard asked, noting that girls as young as 10 have gotten pregnant.
“You don’t want to subsidize that? That’s how far we’re going to go with this?” Howard said. “We’re excluding things common decency dictates should be part of this coverage.”
About half the states limit abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, while about 10 states prohibit private plans from providing general abortion coverage.
After more than 3½ hours of debate, the House voted largely along party lines to approve HB 214.
A final vote is expected Wednesday, sending the House bill to the Senate, which has already approved similar legislation. To go to Gov. Greg Abbott, who included the issue on the special session agenda, one of those bills needs approval from both chambers.
House Speaker Joe Straus gavels in a vote last month on stricter reporting of abortion complications. The chamber gave its initial approval to another abortion bill Tuesday.