CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
State lawmakers in Washington are renewing their push to pass a first-of-its-kind bill that would prevent insurance companies in the state from segregating abortion services from the rest of reproductive health care. Under the legislation — appropriately named the “Reproductive Parity Act” — insurance plans that offer maternity care would also be required to cover elective abortions.
This is the third year in a row that Democrats in Washington State have attempted to advance this legislation. In the past, the Reproductive Parity Act has passed the House, but has ended up stalling in the Republican-controlled Senate. Opponents of the measure argue that it might force a business owner to offer coverage for services that violate their personal beliefs. Supporters point out that it includes religious and conscious exemptions, and would ensure that insurance companies aren’t allowed to dictate the type of health care services that Americans may access.
Most insurance plans in Washington already offer coverage for abortion. But Rep. Eileen Cody (D), the chairwoman of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee and the primary sponsor of the bill, believes it’s necessary to enact further protections now that the Affordable Care Act is being fully implemented. Health reform has re-opened the fight over insurance coverage for abortion, giving states an opportunity to attack abortion access — and the Reproductive Parity Act would prevent similar attacks in Washington.
Indeed, this is becoming an increasingly popular method of undermining reproductive rights. Twenty three states have barred Obamacare’s new insurance exchanges from covering abortion, and an additional eight states go even further to restrict abortion coverage in the private market. Some of these laws have sparked particular controversy because they don’t include any exceptions for victims of rape and incest. And just last week, Congress considered national legislation to restrict the way that the private insurance market handles abortion services in every single state.
Abortions tend to be concentrated among low-income women, so enacting economic barriers to the procedure is an effective method of preventing women from being able to have one. Without insurance coverage for abortion, the women who need to end a pregnancy are essentially punished with huge out-of-pocket costs in order to access this type of medical care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about half of the women who have abortions need to get outside help because they can’t afford to pay for it on their own.
Washington State has been somewhat of a pioneer in reproductive rights over the past several decades. It was the first state to legalize abortion by a popular vote in 1970. More recently, state officials have worked to prevent public hospitals from refusing to offer abortion care — another serious barrier to women’s access to the full range of reproductive services. The Guttmacher Institute has repeatedly rated the state as “supportive” of reproductive rights.