Tied to federal health care law, but state could set different policies
By Stacy Brown | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — The battle over abortion is brewing in Pennsylvania, as lawmakers seek to limit access through the state health care exchange and federal funding for it.
House Bill 1977
prohibits coverage for abortions in state health plans, unless the abortion is performed to prevent the death of the mother or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
Some say this bill, sponsored by Rep. Donna Oberlander,
R-Clarion, would take away a woman’s right to have an abortion, while proponents argue that the bill supports the state's public policy and protects the rights of those who don't want to pay into a state health-care pool that funds abortion.
"It is intriguing that these legislators are so eager to intervene in a private transaction, telling private companies what they can offer private persons who are using private money," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Tom Shaheen, vice president of Pennsylvania Family Institute, a socially conservative nonprofit policy center, said, "If this bill doesn't pass, Pennsylvania would indirectly be funding abortion which is against the public policy of the Commonwealth.”
The state House Health Committee
on Monday advanced this legislation with a 15-8 vote mostly along party lines with state Rep. Ken Smith
, D-Lackawanna, the only Democrat to support it.
"You can call me a conservative or what you will, but I support this bill, because it does protect women who are victims of rape or incest and it does protect women whose life may be in jeopardy," Smith said.
The measure moves to the House for a vote, and its companion bill, Senate Bill 3
, also is awaiting a vote by the state Senate. Final passage of these bills is expected before the upcoming holiday, Smith said.
If the bill did become law, Hoover said he was concerned that very few health-care providers would provide abortion services.
"Women have a right to an abortion and, today, insurance companies are covering it. When the exchange starts, abortion coverage will diminish across the board," Hoover said.
Others say lawmakers’ priorities are out of whack.
"Our lawmakers should focus on improving our health-care system and stop using women's health as a divisive issue," said Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, a pro-abortion agency.
Proponents of the measure maintain that legislators were on target and in-line with state policy.
"It is a matter of conscience," Shaheen said. "The bills are about patient safety and taxpayer protection.”
The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires states to establish exchanges to provide a market, where small businesses and individuals can buy coverage.
The federal government would provide grants to all states to help pay for insurance coverage.
The exchange, which would be funded with federal subsidies, is set to begin in 2014.
State law requires that employee health plans funded by the state not include abortion coverage, unless:
An abortion is necessary to save a woman's life;
The pregnancy resulted from rape or incest personally reported by the survivor to a law-enforcement agency or child protective services prior to the abortion.
A Quinnipiac University poll found that 67 percent of 1,616 registered voters surveyed nationwide in January opposed funding abortion with federal funds. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
Committee minority chairman Rep. John Myers
, D-Philadelphia, called the legislation another "attempt to put a nail in the coffin of the Roe v. Wade decision." Myers voted against the measure.
Roe v. Wade
was the controversial and landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down many state laws restricting abortion.
"This is part of the national plan relates to the dismantling of (federal health care law)," Myers said. "I support the president. This is a Republican philosophical agenda with an eye on the 2012 election, and there are also some conservative Democrats who support this.”
Majority chairman and state Rep. Matt Baker
, R-Bradford, said the measure has bipartisan support in the state Senate.
"I think it transcends politics, so I must object to that characterization that it is a conservative or a Republican philosophy or it's” aimed at influencing the 2012 elections, Baker said.