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Abortion bill sparks debate in Washington state

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Abortion rights supporters and opponents packed a Washington state House hearing Thursday and debated a measure that would require insurers to pay for the procedure.

Supporters call the bill the Reproductive Parity Act and say it’s intended to preserve existing abortion coverage once new health insurance rules come into effect under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, the bill’s sponsor, says the proposal is needed because the Affordable Care Act will create red tape that could tempt insurers to drop abortion from their plans.

Under Cody’s measure, insurers who provide maternity care, which is required in Washington state, will also have to pay for abortions.

Starting next year, insurers will be required to collect two sets of premiums, one for abortion coverage and another for all other care.

Cody said she is unaware of any carrier contemplating dropping abortion coverage.

At least 17 states have passed laws prohibiting insurance plans available for purchase on the state health care exchanges that will be part of the federal health care law from covering abortion.

This measure would make Washington the first to do the opposite, though two federally mandated multi-state insurance plans, as well as those offered by providers claiming religious or conscience-based exemptions, would be excluded.

Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said that other states are considering similar legislation to Washington’s but that she is not aware of such bills having been introduced.

Opponents of House Bill 1044 used the hearing to say it was wrong to compel businesses and women who oppose abortion to pay for coverage for a procedure they equate with murder.

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“This bill would force me to buy something I do not believe in,” said Kimmy Jones, 28, a stay-at-home mother from Rainier, Wash.

Detractors also said that an exemption for insurance providers on conscience or religious grounds was not strong or broad enough.

Jonathan Bechtle, CEO of the Freedom Foundation, a fiscally conservative group that takes no position on abortion, said his group opposes the measure.

“Whatever one thinks about the morality of this issue, forcing businesses and individuals to follow one rule reduces competition, reduces choice and reduces innovation,” Bechtle said.

Supporters, for their part, told members of the House’s Health and Wellness Committee that women should be able to elect to have an abortion without fearing that their insurance won’t cover it.

Rose said her group wants to make sure women have access to insurance that “allows them to make the decision that’s best for them and their families, with their God and their doctors.”

A similar measure passed out of the Democratic-controlled House last year but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.

The measure’s fate will likely be determined in the Senate again this year, where a version of the bill has 22 co-sponsors, leaving it in need of three votes.

The most important swing vote is Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who leads the coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats holding a one-vote majority in the chamber.

Tom, a supporter of abortion rights, is one of a handful of senators, including Andy Hill, R-Redmond, and Joe Fain, R-Auburn, who declined to state a position on the bill. Hill and Fain have a moderate voting record on social issues, and supporters may try to persuade them to support the abortion rights proposal.

Tom expressed concern that the plan could run afoul of federal law.