The Austin Chronicle

"Rape Insurance" Bill Close to Becoming Law

By Mary Tuma, August 13, 2017, 10:00am, Newsdesk

Ecstatic to bring their first child into the world, Austin residents Scott Ross and Jeni-Putalavage Ross approached the 21st week of pregnancy with joy.

But a routine trip to the doctor soon revealed a rare and severe chromosomal fetal abnormality. Their future baby would not survive birth. The doctor recommended termination of pregnancy, a decision the couple did not make lightly. Scott said: “We felt a lot of mental anguish, but we knew the anguish – physical and mental – would be even harder if we carried the baby to term.”

Due to complications, Jeni spent seven days in the ICU. All said and done, the Rosses' medical bill totaled a whopping $64,000. Thankfully, employer-based insurance covered 90% of the tab. However, an anti-choice Texas bill – inches away from becoming law – would have prevented the Rosses and couples like them from receiving insurance coverage for abortion care. “Under the bill, we would have had to pay out of pocket and would have been in dire financial straits, on top of the pain we felt losing our child,” said Scott, who likened the bill to a “pregnancy tax.”

One of Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda items, HB 214 by Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, (and Senate counterpart SB 8 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe) bars abortion coverage from private, state-offered, and Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance plans, with an exception for a narrowly defined “medical emergency” but no exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities – an especially cruel aspect of the bill that compelled critics and some legislators to dub it the "rape insurance" bill. Women would be forced to somehow anticipate the need for abortion care – an unpredictable life event – and purchase supplemental coverage, defying the point of insurance.

“It’s so frustrating to hear lawmakers call it an ‘elective abortion’ – we didn’t elect to have a child who is incompatible with life,” said Scott. “Like all abortions, it was unforeseen.”

Further, the bill doesn’t require insurance plans to offer the added coverage, or even notify clients if they don’t offer it. “You can be basically flying blind when choosing your insurance plan and not know the plan you’re buying for your family didn’t cover pregnancy termination even if it’s the result of rape or incest,” health care attorney Blake Rocap of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, pointed out to the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee during a Friday hearing (Aug. 11).

Bill authors claim the legislation is about “economic freedom” and allowing those who "philosophically disagree" with abortion to not have to subsidize the procedure, but the measure will end up unnecessarily and unfairly pushing abortion further out of reach for women, especially low-income women, pro-choice advocates caution. Texas isn’t alone in banning abortion insurance coverage; other GOP-controlled states have taken on similar laws: 10 states ban abortion from private insurance, and 25 states bar the procedure from health exchanges, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

On Saturday, during a hearing held well after 5pm, Senate Republicans left their empathy and compassion at the door while swatting down Democrat-authored amendments that sought to carve out exceptions for rape and incest victims and for women with severe fetal abnormalities, before eventually ushering the bill along to third reading in a 20-10 vote on party lines. It’s highly expected to pass the Senate’s final hurdle and eventually head to Abbott’s desk to become law. (House Democrats similarly attempted to include those exceptions, but Republicans callously shot them down when passing through HB 214 earlier this week, as noted in this week’s issue.)

“No one plans to be raped. No one plans to have an abortion. This is what I find so egregious about this bill,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who offered an amendment to protect victims of sexual assault from the potential new law – it was knocked down in a 20-10 vote. “This shouldn't be a partisan issue. It should be about us caring about sexual assault survivors."

With his amendments killed on the floor, the Senate GOP showed Texans how much they care about sexual assault survivors and all women, loud and clear.

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