The state House gave preliminary approval today to legislation that would prohibit private insurance companies from covering abortion care for women with serious health conditions under the federal health care law.

House Bill 1977 prohibits insurance companies from covering abortion care in the insurance exchange created by the federal healthcare law, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and imminent death.

Republicans say the bill would prevent the use of taxpayer dollars for "elective abortions."

Opponents say the measure would endanger women's health.

"The state House is a health hazard," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Either they don't understand the healthcare needs of women or they don't care."

Democrats attempted to amend the bill by adding a reference to the definition of "medical emergency" that is currently in the Abortion Control Act. That definition states that a medical emergency occurs when a pregnant woman's condition "so complicates the medical condition of a pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of major bodily function."

The amendment failed.

The House action comes several weeks after the Gov. Corbett - who as attorney general joined with 25 other states to sue the federal government over the Affordable Care Act -  said Pennsylvania would establish a health insurance exchange under the new law. Health exchanges will allow consumers - particularly individuals and small business owners -  to shop around for insurance.

Besides being a one-stop shop for health insurance, the exchange will be the only place where many of the people who will be newly eligible for insurance under the law - those making between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level - can apply for the tax credits that are intended to make coverage affordable.

During the debate today, Democrats said the bill would limit access to abortions to those in the most desperate situations: low-income women with serious medical conditions whose doctors advise them to have an abortion to protect their health.

Hoover pointed to a Susquehanna Polling and Research survey that found that 79 percent of Pennsylvanians believe that insurance companies should cover abortion coverage in these situations.

The House may vote on the bill's final passage next week. It would still have to be considered by the state Senate.

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