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Arizona's latest abortion bill seeks ban on health exchange coverage

PHOENIX—Bills aimed at curtailing access to abortion often garner headlines when the Arizona State Legislature meets, but so far this session just one measure aims to increase restrictions.

SB 1318, authored by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, would prohibit any health care exchange in Arizona from providing coverage for elective abortions.

Barto said the change would protect Arizona taxpayers, who she said overwhelmingly oppose abortion.

“I stand up for the most vulnerable and for my constituents that believe that their tax dollars shouldn’t go for these services,” she said.

U.S. adults are highly divided on the issue of abortion, with 47 percent identifying as supporting abortion rights and 46 percent as anti-abortion, according to a Gallup poll.

Barto’s bill advanced Feb. 11 on a 4-3 party-line vote by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Some of the laws passed in recent years have: required state-directed counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before a woman receives an abortion; prohibited the use of telemedicine in abortions; and required women considering abortions to undergo ultrasounds and for abortion providers to offer to show them the images.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group, said her organization is working with Barto on the bill, as it has on other legislation in previous sessions.

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Herrod said restrictions are necessary because abortion providers aren’t providing adequate measures to protect women’s health and safety.

“We’ve been a leader in supporting pro-life measures that look out for both the needs of the pre-born child as well as their mothers,” she said.

Herrod said SB 1318 would close a loophole in a law passed in 2010 that only would prohibit a state-run health exchange from providing abortion coverage. Arizona has since opted against establishing a state-run exchange, meaning the federal exchange applies here.

“So our Department of Insurance interpreted the law passed in 2010 as allowing abortion coverage to be included,” Herrod said.

Barto said the Center for Arizona Policy brought the issue to her attention with a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Because the prohibition of abortion coverage doesn’t apply to the federally run exchange, 41 of 199 qualified health plans in Arizona cover elective abortions, according to the report.

“It’s a problem. Arizonans don’t expect to be paying for other people’s abortion,” Barto said. “But most people with health care through exchanges receive subsidies, and that’s where that’s happening.”

Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said SB 1318 wouldn’t present much more of an access issue because most insurance companies don’t cover elective abortions.

But she said the bill still represents a bigger issue: the Legislature’s attempt to regulate a product sold in the market. Hobbs said the people who buy private insurance plans through the exchange using their own money should have freedom of health care access.

“It’s hypocritical that the people pushing it support the free market and personal freedom, but they don’t support personal freedom when it comes to my health care choice and access,” she said.

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While SB 1318 is the GOP’s only bill concerning abortion coverage so far this session, Alessandra Soler, executive director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said it’s just the latest in an onslaught of bills aimed at restricting access.

“What they’ve been doing over the past five or six years is chipping away at the fundamental right that a woman has to make decisions about her own health care,” she said.

Soler said the ACLU of Arizona has worked closely with Planned Parenthood Arizona to fight some of those restrictions, including a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.

She said many of the laws the ACLU has litigated, including the 20-week ban, have been struck down as unconstitutional.

“Where we’ve been successful in stopping these bad bills from being implemented is through the courts,” Soler said.

She said the ACLU is currently fighting a law banning race- or sex- selection abortions, which she said vilifies African-American and Asian-American women.

“We think that it’s discriminatory, and we’re continuing to litigate that,” Soler said.

Meanwhile, some Democrats have introduced bills aiming to roll back restrictions on access to abortions.

Some of those would remove the requirement for a 24-hour reflection period before an abortion, remove the requirement of informed consent in cases of rape or incest, repeal the right for state officials to conduct surprise inspections of abortion clinics and repeal the law on telemedicine and abortions.

None of those bills is likely to advance with Republicans in control of both houses.

Hobbs introduced legislation to repeal several laws narrowing access to reproductive health care, including mandatory ultrasounds before abortions, prohibition of race- or sex-selection abortions and the privilege of employers to decide whether they cover birth control.

She said SB 1431 came out of her frustration with the existing laws and the shortage of votes in the Legislature to stop them.

“I introduced it to make a statement that we can’t keep sitting by as access erodes,” Hobbs said. “Taking away access to safe and legal abortion is a threat to women’s health and safety.”

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2 comments on this story

Feb 18, 2015, 4:43 pm
-0 +0

It is time for Republicans to stop this insane war on women.

Feb 17, 2015, 3:19 pm
-0 +0

This all seems to be such stupid nonsense.  The last time I had a friend that, through no fault of her own, needed this procedure, mid 1980’s…it was around $400 cash and that was that.  Has the price of this gone up as to make insurance a necessity to have this procedure?  I’d like to think that most people don’t need ongoing coverage for this….just a reasonable price for it if it is needed….
I’m firmly in the pro-choice camp…but this particular part of the issue does seem to be getting more attention than it should….

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Mackenzie Concepcion/Cronkite News

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group, is among those supporting a bill that would prohibit abortion coverage through the federal health insurance exchange available in Arizona.

Current state anti-abortion laws:

  • Abortion isn’t covered in insurance policies for public employees except in the case of a medical emergency.
  • A woman must undergo an ultrasound at least 24 hours before an abortion; a provider must offer the option to view the image.
  • A woman must receive state-directed counseling and then wait 24 hours before an abortion.
  • Medication abortion must be administered using the FDA protocol; telemedicine in medication abortion is prohibited.

Source: Guttmacher Institute