House gives first OK to ban on in­sur­ers cov­er­ing abor­tion,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com Con­tact Chuck Lin­dell at 512912-2569. Twit­ter: @chuck­lin­dell

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.

RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

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.

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