Catholic Bishops of Wash. ask Gov. Inslee to veto abortion insurance bill

The Bishops representing 1.3 million Catholics in Washington State have sent a letter to Governor Inslee asking him to veto a Senate Bill 6219 bill, which would require health insurance companies to offer abortion coverage, if maternity coverage is also offered. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - The Bishops representing 1.3 million Catholics in Washington State want Governor Inslee to veto a bill that would require health insurance companies to offer abortion coverage, if maternity coverage is also offered.

The “Reproductive Parity Act” SB 6219 passed the state senate Saturday and is now headed to the Governor for his signature.

According to a governor’s spokesperson, Inslee has support reproductive parity in the past.

The Bishops claim the measure offers no ‘opt-out’ for religious, moral or conscience reasons.

“This legislation infringes on religious liberty and conscience protections on the part of individuals and employers here in the state of Washington,” said Joe Sprague, Executive Director of the Washington State Catholic Conference.

The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) said it’s a victory for the women in the state.

“It’s a choice that this state has made through initiatives, saying that we are a pro-choice state,” said Hobbs. “So I think that decision should rest with the women.”

The bill states, “If a health plan, other than a multi-state health plan, issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2019, provides coverage for maternity care, the health plan must also provide a substantially equivalent coverage to permit the abortion of a pregnancy.”

The bill also states there would be no limit in the way a person can access abortion related services, but the coverage, "may be subject to terms and conditions generally applicable to the health plan’s coverage of maternity care”."

The health plan is not required to cover abortions that would be unlawful.

Health plans that offer maternity care must also provide coverage for all contraceptive drugs, devices and other products approved by the FDA as well as voluntary sterilization.

Any applicable co-pays or cost-sharing that’s part of maternity care must be reflected in the coverage of an abortion.

The bill would allow the state to use taxpayer money to cover the cost of an abortion through Medicaid. Federal law prevents the federal funding to pay for abortions, but the state can do so under Medicaid, if only state funds are used.

Current insurance law offers opt-out exemptions based on religious beliefs, but Sprague said it’s unclear if SB 6912 supersedes those exemptions.

“Frankly, it’s just not clear if the existing state insurance law provides sufficient protection or not,” said Sprague. “There’s a lack of clear protection for somebody to exercise their conscience or religious beliefs rather than have something mandated that would run counter to those beliefs.”

Hobbs said employers have the right to file a lawsuit if they don’t like the bill.

“Health care is about the individual, not about them,” said Hobbs.

Insurance companies must offer the abortion coverage if they offer maternity coverage starting January 1, 2019, if Inslee signs the bill as expected.

How companies who don’t want to offer that coverage will respond remains to be seen.

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