Abortion Debate Moves To The States, Tennessee General Assembly Considers Abortion Ban

The Tennessee General Assembly was scheduled to approve a measure banning insurers from offering abortion coverage within the exchanges today, but lawmakers rescheduled the vote for Monday after Democratic members expressed concern that the bill could conflict with the federal Hyde amendment and deny abortions to women in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother was in danger. The bill, HB 2681, seeks to “ensure that Tennessee tax money does not go to pay for abortion as provided in the new federal health care plan.”

Lawmakers in at least four states — including Tennessee, Oklahoma, Missouri and Mississippi — have all introduced bills “that would generally block abortion coverage in exchange plans, while two other states — Arizona and Kansas — are seeking to impose wider restrictions. Arizona has a bill that would blog local governments from providing abortion coverage for their employees and Kansas would “prohibit insurance plans from generally covering abortion.”

“Both abortion opponents and groups favoring abortion rights say they expect to see a growing number of state-level fights over the issues raised by the federal law,” which says states can choose to “prevent plans offered through their exchanges from covering abortion altogether.”

I’ll try to follow these debates in some detail, but from listening to today’s session in the Tennessee general assembly, I’m not too optimistic that pro-choice lawmakers will be able to block these amendments. For instance, Democrats in Tennessee didn’t object to the measure as much as they pressed the sponsor to clarify that it would not prohibit women whose life was in danger or those who became pregnant a result of incest or rape, from obtaining an abortion. They didn’t argue that the federal health law already prohibited public dollars from funding abortion services or maintain that insurers that choose to cover abortion will have to segregate public and private funds.


Of course, if these bills are successful, women would only be able to purchase abortion coverage in the unsubsidized (but newly regulated!) individual health insurance market or, if that’s unavailable, they would have to pay the full cost of an abortion, which is about $500 for a first-semester pregnancy.