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Democratic House Passes RPA, Delivering Challenge to Sen. Tom

Democratic house passes major pro-choice bill. Eyes turn to Tom's tightrope walk in the senate.

By Carryn Vande Griend February 22, 2013

The Democratic state house of reps passed the Reproductive Parity Act today in along straight party lines, 53-43. The RPA, which requires insurance plans that cover maternity care to also cover abortion, is the first of its kind to pass in the country. While all insurance carriers in Washington State currently cover abortion services, the RPA guarantees coverage will remain in tact when new administrative hurdles to abortion coverage in the Affordable Care Act take effect.

Rep. Eileen Cody (D-34, West Seattle), who sponsored the bill explained on the house floor this morning, “This bill is just a simple technical fix to maintain the status quo is Washington. It does not expand abortion or anything we currently have. Today all insurance carriers currently cover maternity and abortions services; however, the Affordable Care Act may cause us to roll back a woman’s freedom to choose with administrative red tape. These decisions should not be made by employers or politicians or insurance companies.”

“When we talk about choice and having choice, this bill takes away mine."—Republican Rep. Norma SmithHowever, Rep. Shelly Short (R-7, Addy) argued, “Under Obamacare, one plan is required to not cover abortion… I think this bill [to require all insurance carriers to cover abortion] is in direct conflict with Obamacare and is going to very much endanger [federal] funding. “ She added, “When we talk about choice and having choice, this bill takes away mine."

Rep. Norma Smith (R-10, Clinton) emphatically agreed. “Choice? I want that choice to have an insurance carrier that aligns with my core values.” 

Her conservative colleague, Rep. Jay Rodne (R-5, N. Bend), passed a conscience clause amendment which allows providers to opt out of coverage for religious reasons (that passed unanimously); but sponsor Rep. Cody amended the amendment by requiring providers who opt out to list services they don't cover up front and to tell enrollees where they can obtain those services. Her amendment passed 52-44.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma) responded to Smith with a different take on choice: “There will always be two federal plans that do not have (abortion) services, this bill is about making sure everyone else has that choice. Today nearly every health plan covers a full range of reproductive options. We want it to stay that way. Voters [in Washington state] have said three times that we want to make sure women maintain the right to choice. No health care decision should be made for a woman because she can’t afford care.”

So what’s next for the Reproductive Parity Act? A companion bill in the senate, sponsored by a bipartisan duo—Sens. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) and Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island)—has thus far been ignored by conservative committee chairs in the Majority Coalition Caucus, a Republican-dominated bloc of 25 senators (that includes two conservative Democrats, Sens. Tim Sheldon, D-35, Potlatch, and the MCC leader, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-48, Medina).

"No health care decision should be made for a woman because she can’t afford care."—Democratic Rep. Laurie JinkinsTom, a fiscal conservative, who stumps on issues like choice to make the case that he's a still a Democrat, has pledged that the RPA will ultimately get a hearing in the senate. Tom's MCC has sent a batch of bills scaling back workers' compensation protections over the liberal house. If he plans to get anywhere with his conservative fiscal agenda in the bargaining end game with no-nonsense dealmaker speaker Frank Chopp (D-43, Capitol Hill), Tom is going to have to get results from the MCC on this. Given his own personal support, and the fact that Republican Litzow is a co-sponsor, the bill clearly has the votes in the senate. The question is: Is Tom brave enough to bring it to the floor? We have a call in to Sen. Hobbs, who has needled Tom on this before, telling us: "I realize that there are internal problems within the Republican Caucus on this bill and that there is a lot that Sen. Tom has to deal with."

Seizing on Tom's political conundrum, Erin Haick, spokeswoman for the liberal group FUSE said today in a statement: “It's time for Sen. Rodney Tom to exercise leadership on women's health and stand up to his anti-choice committee chairs who want to stop the Reproductive Parity Act. Tom should put women’s health above the desires of his far-right majority and allow a vote on the Reproductive Partiy Act.”

Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, took advantage of the moment as well: “Washingtonians agree that politics have no place in private medical decisions. The RPA deserves more than just a committee hearing, it deserves a vote by the full Senate.”

Governor Jay Inslee, who has been in vocal support of the bill, said: “Today’s vote in the House is a big step forward in guaranteeing women’s access to a full range of reproductive health care services. As I begin signing bills next week, I expect the Senate to follow the House’s lead so the RPA can be among those I have the honor of signing into law. The Senate should not shut the door of democracy when it comes to women's health care.”

UPDATE: Late in the day Hobbs released the following statement:

I’m disappointed because  Sen. Tom has given me his word over and over again that the Reproductive Parity Act would receive a hearing and I took him at his word.

I have introduced this bill three times this session in an effort to work with Sen. Tom and the Republicans, and even offered up my own committee, Financial Institutions, Housing, and Insurance, as a place for the bill to be heard.

This fight is far from over and I will continue my work to move the House version of this bill forward. The Republicans have another chance to right a wrong and prove to Washington women that they care about their reproductive health care choices.


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