Will state Democrats revive an abortion coverage bill?

The Legislative Building at the Capitol in Olympia. Dec. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

To Elissa Goss, enacting a state law to require that maternity insurance also cover abortions would provide a safety net against what the Trump administration is doing in Washington, D.C.

The spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington has a list of concerns about the safety net: Trump is appointing pro-life judges. The U.S. Supreme Court possibly getting a majority that could repeal Roe v. Wade with one more Trump appointment. The Centers for Disease Control being told not to use the words “diversity," "fetus," "transgender," "vulnerable," "science-based" and "evidence-based.” A potential legal battleground with the Congressional GOP tax bill creating college savings plans for the “unborn,” which could have hair-splitting ripple effects into abortion legal disputes. And what about abortion coverage for a transgender self-identified male with a uterus ending up with an unwanted pregnancy?

That’s why NARAL supports Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, reviving the proposed Reproductive Parity Act, which died in a Republican-controlled state Senate Health Care Committee in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Democrats did not try to introduce the bill the past two years since the same Senate committee obstacle remained.

With Democrats gaining control of the Senate by a 25-24 split in a special November election in one suburban King County district, the last obvious political obstacle to the Reproductive Parity Act has been removed if Democrats keep their 25-vote bloc intact. A couple of Republicans also showed inclinations in previous years to vote for the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

The 2018 bill has not yet been introduced, although Hobbs said he will do so after discussions with the interested parties. “We’re trying to figure out what is happening in Washington, D.C.,” Hobbs said. Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, also might introduce a version of the measure but she deferred comments to Hobbs.

The bill would require that any insurance companies providing maternity coverage also cover abortions. The measure would likely pass as Democrats have pushed this legislation for years, voicing frustration each time it failed.

And revival of the bill would have a ready-made cheering section of many Democrats and their supporters.

Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for state Democratic Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, said, “Protecting women’s access to reproductive services has become even more important under the current administration.”

She added, “Just a few months ago, the President issued an executive order repealing coverage under the [federal Affordable Care Act] for contraceptives if an employer objects based on undefined moral grounds.”

NARAL’s Goss said, “Washington has traditionally been a leader in legal access to abortion. … A right is not a right without access.”

Last year, Oregon became the first and only state to mandate abortion coverage, according to Katie Rogers, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands.

She wrote in an email that one company offering four plans in Washington only covers termination of a pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, or to protect the life or health of the pregnant woman. “It is worth noting that because most plans currently provide coverage doesn’t mean they won’t drop coverage in the future,” Rogers wrote.

Washington’s Medicaid program covers abortion.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington, which opposed the bill in the past, is reorganizing and was not prepared to comment on Hobbs’ proposed legislation. But opponents of the bill, in the past, have raised a host of concerns, including about the morality of abortions and the requirement that employer-supported health insurance cover abortions despite religious beliefs the employer might hold.

Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, recently said, "I think most of the constituents in eastern rural Washington would be against [the bill]."

A fellow Republican, Rep. Brad Klippert of Kennewick, said, "I'm a pro-life person. Every person who is conceived should have a chance at life."

An abortion’s basic costs are roughly $600 to $650, which does not count traveling and hotel expenses. Sometimes, women seeking an abortion must travel to another city or even another state, Goss said.

“For people struggling to make ends meet, this is simply out of reach without help,” Trina Stout, spokeswoman for the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, wrote in an email.

The fund covers Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska with 1,193 women seeking financial help this year. About 15 percent are from Washington; roughly half are from Idaho, where abortion coverage is withheld from public and private insurance plans.

Goss and Stout said that the denial of abortion coverage disproportionately affects poor women and people of color. Also, if an insurance plan does cover abortion, sometimes the deductible can be high enough that the entire procedure must be paid out of pocket, Stout said.

Marquis of the Insurance Commissioner’s Office said, “The full array of reproductive services —  from maternity to birth control and abortion —  needs to be clearly spelled out in all health plans in our state in order to protect the access to the services we have today. A reproductive parity act will ensure that women retain the ability to make the pregnancy decisions that are best for themselves and their family.”


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8