HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania has joined other states in restricting coverage for abortion in health care policies sold on the new insurance exchanges.
Gov. Tom Corbett's office announced without fanfare Monday afternoon that he had signed the bill into law. It would allow policies sold through the exchanges to provide for abortion only in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the woman.
The federal health care law calls for health insurance exchanges -- online clearinghouses where people can compare and buy individual policies -- to be open for business by January 2014. The federal government is to operate exchanges for states, such as Pennsylvania, that have declined to establish their own.
The law permits states to ban policies sold on their exchanges from covering abortion. Twenty other states have laws restricting abortion coverage on the exchanges, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which provides research on abortion and other sexual health issues.
Pennsylvania's bill passed with Democrats supporting Republicans in both chambers.
Meanwhile in Washington, House Republicans seem eager to reopen the emotional fight over abortion by bringing to the floor today a measure to bar the procedure after 22 weeks of pregnancy, the most restrictive abortion bill to come to a vote in either chamber in a decade.
Pennsylvania law prohibits spending of state or federal tax dollars on abortions, and the governor's office pointed to this ban to say the new law would not add barriers. The federal health care law provides for subsidies to reduce the cost of insurance on exchanges for families with incomes between one and four times the federal poverty line.
"We believe [the bill] safeguards taxpayer dollars, while also not placing any new restrictions on access to or payment for care than already exists under [Pennsylvania] and federal law," said Corbett spokeswoman Christine Cronkright.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been monitoring state legislatures' attempts this year to restrict abortion rights. In Harrisburg, ACLU of Pennsylvania legislative director Andy Hoover said the law is different from past abortion regulations.
"This is a new frontier in restricting women's health care in Pennsylvania," he said. "The state has never before prohibited a private insurance company from covering abortion for a private customer when the customer pays with their own money."
He said the federal health care law already requires separate abortion coverage payments.
The legislation passed the House, 144-53, and the Senate, 31-19. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said in a statement, "Through this legislation, now law, we continue the fight to protect life and shut the back door to government-subsidized abortions."
Critics of the bill, primarily Democrats, say it expands restrictions on abortion rights and discriminates against poor women. Anyone wanting coverage for most abortions would need to buy that separately, outside of the marketplace. Most privately sold health insurance policies cover abortions. Abortion-rights proponents in the Legislature tried but failed to expand the bill's exceptions to include instances when the mother's health is at risk and to allow policies in the marketplace to include abortion coverage as long as patients used their own money to buy them.
The bill being offered in the U.S. House stands no chance of becoming law, with Democrats controlling the Senate and White House. GOP leaders acknowledge that its purpose is to satisfy vocal elements of their base who have renewed a push for new restrictions on reproductive rights, even though those issues harmed the party's reputation with women in 2012.
Republican leaders have moved to insulate themselves from Democrats' criticism that they are opening a new front in the "war on women."
In a last-minute revision, House leaders slipped in a provision to allow a limited exception in cases of rape or incest, but only if the woman had reported the crime.
First Published June 17, 2013 3:15 PM