That Washington

McMorris Rodgers Signs Letter Opposing State Reproductive Parity Act

By Erica C. Barnett February 24, 2012

US Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA, 5), along with three other congressional Republicans and two Democrats, has signed a letter urging President Obama to "send a strong message to Washington State" that the state's proposed reproductive parity act, which would require insurers that provide maternity care to also cover abortions, violates the federal Hyde/Weldon amendment, which prevents discrimination against institutions or insurers that do not cover abortions. The move is unusual in that Congressional leaders do not typically get involved in state legislation.

"The bill would be a direct violation of federal law which protects providers, in this case insurance companies and health plans, against discrimination for choosing not to provide coverage of abortions," the letter  says. "The state of Washington, or any other state for that matter, that receives federal funds is prohibited from mandating that insurance plans cover abortion or from requiring that providers refer for such services."

"We would hope that your administration would send a strong message to Washington State that enacting legislation in violation of the Hyde/Weldon amendment will jeopardize federal funds to the state."

McMorris Rodgers was the only woman to sign the letter, which was also signed by Reps. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Joseph Pitts (R-PA, and the co-author of the notorious Stupak-Pitts amendment), John Fleming (R-LA), Dan Boren (D-OK), and Daniel Lipinski (D-IL).

However, the reproductive parity act does include an exemption for religious institutions that do not want to provide abortion coverage, saying explicitly, "It is the intent of the legislature that nothing in this act affect the right of objection based on conscience or religion." The bill also exempts from the requirement any state-funded insurance exchange that explicitly doesn't cover abortions; the Hyde/Weldon amendment mandates that states set up at least one exchange that does not pay for abortions under the federal health care law.

Additionally, religious providers who do not want to provide abortions still have the option to eliminate maternal health care coverage; the bill only provides "parity" for women who want to end their pregnancies with women who want to carry them to term.

I have calls out to reproductive rights advocates for their response to the representatives' claim that the bill would violate Hyde/Weldon.

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