Senate Votes to Ban Insurance Coverage for Abortion

GOP moves to prevent health insurers from covering abortion

Senate Votes to Ban Insurance Coverage for Abortion
Illustration by Jason Stout

UPDATE: By a 21-10 vote the Texas Senate passed SB 575 on third reading Wednesday afternoon.

The measure bans health insurance plans from providing abortion coverage. While Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, sought to include an amendment that would add exceptions for cases of rape and incest, bill author Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, declined to accept it – despite indicating he would favorably consider the addition during floor debate on Tuesday. (The motion to table Garcia's amendment passed 19-12.)

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, hoped to tack on an addition to Garcia's amendment that would have required police reports for the exceptions. Garcia countered that 91% of sexual assaults go unreported due to emotional trauma and argued, “We need to trust women and respect their judgment, not second guess them.” Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, also criticized the proposal for overburdening victims and urged Campbell and others to show compassion. "Women who are already victims will be further victimized," he said. Campbell ended up withdrawing her amendment.

Reproductive rights advocacy group, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas called the move to deny rape and incest exceptions to women "disgusting and cruel." The Texas Legislature, "should not add to tragedy by forcing them to pay for pregnancy terminations out of pocket," said executive director Heather Busby in a statement.

EARLIER: On Tuesday, the Texas Senate approved a bill that prohibits abortion coverage under both private and public insurance plans, marking one of the first pieces of anti-abortion legislation to make it through a preliminary vote on the floor.

Senate Bill 575 by Friendswood Republican Sen. Larry Taylor bans private insurance as well as those offered through the Affordable Care Act marketplace from covering abortion care services, unless women are facing a “medical emergency.” Women would need to purchase supplemental health insurance to gain abortion coverage under Taylor’s bill. To date, 25 states restrict abortion coverage in plans offered through the insurance exchanges, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In an all too ironic statement, Taylor made the argument his bill is really about choice. “This is not a ban on elective abortion. In fact, this bill is all about choice,” he told colleagues on the Senate floor.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, offered real-world scenarios in which SB 575 would pose difficult complications for women, such as cases of rape or abnormal pregnancy that may not necessarily classify as a “medical emergency” under the given definition. “We need to be sensitive as to how the decisions we're making might impact people’s lives,” said Watson. “A person who finds themselves in any of the three scenarios I just talked about might consider our actions to be extreme if we make their very difficult situation even more difficult by denying them insurance coverage.”

Taylor – an insurance agent, not a physician – minimized Watson’s concerns, calling the instances “rare” and “very extreme” (a term which he later retracted). Abortion providers have payment plans, argued Taylor, so women can still receive abortion: “They’ll just have to come up with another means to pay for it other than having all the people across Texas who buy insurance be forced to pay for something they don’t believe in or agree with.”

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, took issue with Taylor’s inability to include exceptions for rape or incest in his bill. (“It just didn’t address it. …And those cases are a very small percentage,” replied Taylor, saying he would consider a possible amendment.) Buying into supplemental insurance may be too expensive for women already struggling with added costs and diminished access inflicted by stringent abortion laws, she argued. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve already denied access to poor women and now we’re working at chipping away at women who do have insurance to present yet another barrier,” said Garcia.

Drawing the point that abortion care is being unfairly targeted by the legislation, Garcia asked, “What if I don’t believe in vasectomies, did you consider other issues that people may have a problem with?” Admitting that the abortion exclusion rule would prove “unique” in Texas, Taylor said the bill was meant to address anti-choice qualms. His reason for filing the bill: “Because the people who are opposed to abortion don’t like to be forced into paying for others who are choosing to have abortion.” (His definition, apparently, of granting people “choice.”)

SB 257 passed on a 21-10 largely party line vote with the support of a lone, anti-choice Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville (Lucio stood as the sole Senate Dem to vote for 2013’s abortion restrictive House Bill 2). The legislation still needs final approval from the Senate before it makes it way to the House.

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