HARRISBURG -- A bill that passed the state House on Tuesday would prohibit women with insurance coverage obtained through the exchanges being created under the federal Affordable Care Act from obtaining an abortion in most situations.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal health care overhaul, starting in 2014 each state will have a health insurance exchange through which individuals and families can purchase insurance. The law allows states to prohibit health insurance carriers in their state's exchange from offering coverage for abortions.
"Consistent with a majority of Pennsylvanians, the House acted today to ensure no tax dollars are used for elective abortions," according to a statement from state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, the House majority leader. The measure would provide exceptions for rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.
Pro-choice groups argue, however, the bill is an intrusion into the private insurance market and the private insurance policies that will be purchased by women.
"House Bill 818 bans the purchase of insurance coverage of abortion with private dollars, end of story," according to a statement from Planned Parenthood PA Advocates.
At least 17 other states have enacted legislation to restrict coverage for abortion in their insurance exchange, according to House Republicans.
Defenders of the bill, which was approved by a vote of 144-53, say the legislation does not forbid someone from purchasing coverage for abortions outside the exchange for a separate premium.
"If Jane Doe wants extra insurance to fund abortions, Jane Doe can go to Blue Cross and get that separately," said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for Mr. Turzai and the Republican caucus.
But pro-choice supporters say that's unlikely.
"Well, those types of policies don't exist. And abortion inherently is unplanned," said Andy Hoover, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Hoover said other states have also allowed an exception for a woman's health.
Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington, said she voted against the bill because it "creates separate and unequal health care for women in Pennsylvania," disproportionately impacting lower- and middle-income women.
A companion bill in the Senate was recently voted out of that chamber's Banking and Insurance Committee. It must still be approved by the Appropriations Committee before it can move forward to the full Senate. Similarly, that bill allows exception for rape, incest or when the life of the woman is in danger, though not a woman's health.
Both the House and Senate passed their own versions of such bills last session, but never got one bill through both chambers.
Said Mr. Hoover, "[The Legislature] has a hunger for making access to reproductive health care as restrictive as possible. These guys just can't keep their hands off abortion and woman's health care. There is clearly an enthusiasm in the Legislature for managing women's reproductive health care from Harrisburg."
Kate Giammarise: email@example.com, 1-717-787-4254 and on Twitter: @KateGiammarise.