Wash. House passes abortion insurance bill

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) Setting up what promises to be a contentious reckoning in the Washington state Senate, the House on Friday passed a measure requiring that most insurance carriers in the state cover abortions.

House Bill 1044 is intended to ensure that insurers continue covering abortions once bureaucratic hurdles for doing so come into effect next year with the enactment of federal health care reforms. Lawmakers in the House passed the measure by a vote of 53-43, with all but two Democratic votes cast in favor and all but one Republican voting against it.

"Today nearly every health plan in Washington state covers a full range of reproductive options," said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma. "And we want it to stay that way."

Opponents contend that abortion coverage in the state is already widespread and the bill is unnecessary. They also argue that it could risk federal health care funds by violating federal law and that it infringes on religious liberties.

"This bill takes away my choice as a woman and other individuals' choices as well to choose not to have that care," Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said.

Supporters point out language in the bill that makes any portion of it inconsistent with federal law moot and exempts insurance carriers though not businesses or individuals objecting to abortion on moral grounds from paying for the coverage. The measure goes next to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

A similar bill in the upper chamber has 23 co-sponsors, leaving it two votes shy of a majority. Another senator, Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who leads the majority caucus of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, spoke recently in support of the bill at a pro-abortion rights rally at the Capitol.

Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, who is chairwoman of the Health Care Committee, said she will make hearing the bill in her committee a priority.

Given the widespread abortion coverage in the state, Becker said she is skeptical of the measure's utility, but she is keeping an open mind. She declined to speculate on its prospects of clearing her committee, which is made up mostly of Republicans.

Sen. Steve Litzow, a Mercer Island lawmaker who is the sole Republican co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said he was heartened that it had cleared the House but said it was unlikely that any action would be taken to move it to the Senate floor in the event that it fails in committee.

"I would be surprised," he said. "You'd have to do something that would be out of the ordinary."

In a statement, Gov. Jay Inslee commended the House for passing the bill and implicitly urged Senate leaders to allow the bill to come up for a floor vote, where supporters believe they have the votes to pass the bill.

"The Senate should not shut the door of democracy when it comes to women's health care," he said.


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