The Democratic house health care committee passed the Reproductive Parity Act today 9-8, mostly along party lines. The RPA mandates that insurance companies that cover maternity care must also cover abortion. Pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington say the legislation is necessary because Obamacare opened the door for insurance companies to deny abortion coverage.
The house passed the bill last year, but it went nowhere in the Republican-controlled senate; Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), who introduced it last year, introduced it again yesterday, coincidentally on the same day that his former friends in the GOP—he's a moderate on fiscal issues and is one of two Democratic solo committee chairs in the Republican setup—were getting ready to demote him.
The discussion at today's RPA vote distilled the abortion debate down to its intractable standoff.
In the clip above, you'll see the Republicans argue that the bill actually limits choice because it forces people who don't support abortion to help subsidize abortion. "It's not permissive, it's restrictive," state Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-20, Chehalis) argued. "If you want to choose a plan ... that didn't cover abortion, you can't... If you choose not to have that in your plan, you should [be able to] have that choice."
For the record: Health exchange rules dictate that at least one provider in the health care exchanges don't cover abortion—and that provider, Premera Blue Cross, offers eight plans in Washington that don't cover abortion. The conscience clause language in the bill also allows religious-sponsored health carriers to opt out, as long as they point enrollees to plans that do provide abortion coverage.
But the insurer conscience clause doesn't exactly speak to the bill opponents' concerns about individuals who don't want to pay an insurer that covers an abortion.
Another Republican opponent of the bill, Rep. Jay Rodne (R-5, Snoqualmie), added: "The First Amendment rights of religious organizations and deeply held religious beliefs should trump this issue in this context."
And Rep. Shelly Short (R-7, Addy) said: "If you don't support what this bill does than you not have as much choice. There is no question that many organizations that support the right to terminate a pregnancy have had tremendous access to services, and yet you would hold those who don't to [limited] choices. I think that's offensive."
Editorializing here: I'm not sure about the merit of the individual objection. It's a slippery slope when you get in to personal beliefs. What's to stop someone from refusing to pay the entertainment and hotel and motel taxes that help pay off CenturyLink stadium because they believe football causes too many life-threatening head injuries? Not to mention that I'm subsidizing other people's planet-killing corporate farming diets when I pay my health care premiums.
But it is true that if an individual objects to subsidizing abortion, the bill simply says: "No individual or organization with a religious or moral tenet opposed to a specific service may be required to purchase coverage for that service or services if they object to doing so for reason of conscience or religion."
Okay, but that's sort of the opponents' point. There are currently only eight plans—and those are just ones on the exchange— that don't cover abortion. Want the plan at your private company, but don't want to subsidize abortion? Too bad. (Too bad for me, though, about those taxes that help cover concussion-inducing football games and that my health care premiums cover other people's climate-change diets.)
The Democrats argued that other people's beliefs should not prevent women from having access to a legal medical procedure.The Democrats argued that other people's beliefs should not prevent women from having access to a legal medical procedure. Staunch pro-choice legislator Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma) said: "The decision of whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term is one of the most important decisions a woman ever makes in her entire life, and I think that's her decision to make ... and it is not for someone else's faith belief to decide for her, it's her faith belief."
Committee chair, and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Eileen Cody (D-34, W. Seattle) closed with a point that probably made opponents' blood boil because it doubled down on the notion of subsidizing abortions:
"I can't tell you how many men through the years have told me, 'why do I have to buy maternity coverage? I'm never going to use it,'" she said. "I feel that is the same issue on 'why do I have to buy abortion [coverage], I don't believe in it?' ... It's in a similar fashion of mandating benefits so that ... the prices are held down."
Opponents of the bill staged a major rally on the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday and student activists with Planned Parenthood were in Olympia lobbying for the bill on Monday.
The bill goes to the rules committee next; the last stop before it goes to the house floor.