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Pa. bill would bar abortion coverage in health exchanges

HARRISBURG - A bill to restrict abortion coverage in health insurance plans offered under the federal Affordable Care Act is moving through the legislature.

HARRISBURG - A bill to restrict abortion coverage in health insurance plans offered under the federal Affordable Care Act is moving through the legislature.

A Senate bill sponsored by Don White (R., Armstrong) would prohibit insurance plans offered under the federally mandated exchange programs from covering abortions except when a mother's life is threatened or in cases of rape or incest.

"Under the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, states have the authority to prohibit certain abortion coverage made available in these taxpayer-subsidized health plans, and we intend to exercise that authority," White said. "This is not a new step for Pennsylvania, but rather a continuation of existing law."

A similar bill is slated for action in the House next week.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood are fighting to stop the proposal, arguing that it would create a two-tier system: one for lower-income and other individuals covered under the Affordable Care Act, and another for those who pay for private coverage.

"We oppose this bill as yet another new restriction on a woman's access to reproductive health care," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Insurance plans typically cover abortion care today."

No state or federal money is used to cover abortion services under the exchanges created by the Obamacare law, said Maggie Groff, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

"That was one of the major sticking points [that] antichoice Democrats were concerned about - a woman has to make a separate for abortion service coverage," Groff said. "The law requires a woman pay with her own money, so with this bill you won't be able to buy comprehensive OB-GYN insurance under the exchange."

Hoover portrayed the state bill as the most recent example of lawmakers trying to restrict access to abortion coverage.

"Once again, this is making abortion coverage as part of comprehensive health care something [only] for people of means," he said.

White said his bill does not seek to bar abortions in Pennsylvania, only to ensure that no tax dollars are used.

"I want to make this clear - Senate Bill 3 does not ban abortions, nor does it bar insurance coverage offered in the private sector from covering abortions," White said. "This legislation extends our existing law on the use of taxpayer dollars for elective abortions to health-insurance exchanges."

More than a dozen states have approved similar restrictions.

Similar Senate and House bills introduced in Harrisburg failed last year, but with the exchanges set to start in 2014, supporters are optimistic about the bill's success.

"I think that it is more likely that one version of this bill or another will make it to the governor's desk this year," Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson told radio station WITF.

A similar bill sponsored by State Rep. Donna Oberlander (R., Armstrong) is scheduled for consideration by the House health committee Monday.