Wash. Considers Law Mandating Abortion Coverage

Faith Group Fears Legislation Would Fail to Protect Religious Organizations

A bill has made it through Washington's House and is now being considered in its Senate that would require almost all health plans under the state's jurisdiction to offer coverage for abortions. The bill provides conscience clauses to protect religious organizations, however the exemptions are inadequate, according to critics.

The bill, called ESHB 2330, would make Washington the first state to mandate any health insurer who covers maternity services to also cover abortions. The only other state considering similar regulations is New York, although its bill is not as far along in the legislative process.

Washington passed the pro-choice Initiative 120 in 1991. Under that law, the state cannot prevent women from having abortions nor "discriminate against the exercise of these rights [to abortion and birth control] in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information."

According to testimony in favor of the bill, ESHB 2330 "does not change anything" because it would simply update Initiative 120 to fit within the regulations of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Under the proposed law, there would be several exceptions for organizations who do not wish to offer abortion coverage as part of their insurance plans.

The bill incorporates an existing state law that exempts religious organizations from being required to pay for a service that they object to "by reason of conscience or religion." Additionally, the bill adds that individuals and organizations will not be forced to purchase coverage for any procedures they have a "religious or moral tenet" against.

The bill also specifies that any multi-state plans are not covered by these rules, so any national plans will not be affected by the new regulations.

Finally, the bill provides an additional exception that health plans are "not required to cover abortions to the extent that such coverage would result in noncompliance with the Weldon amendment," which prevents a state from discriminating against health care entities that do not cover abortions.

"At the end of the day it appears that the bill would require health plans to cover abortion care, but then allow those with objections to opt out of the coverage," Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a group that analyzes policies relating to women's healthcare, told The Christian Post.

Still, opponents of the bill fear that the exceptions will not be enough.

"This bill offers inadequate conscience protections for employers who do not wish to provide insurance coverage for abortion services, and it does not offer an exemption to employees who do not wish to support abortion through their insurance premiums," the Washington State Catholic Conference said in a recent press release.

The WSCC also fears that the exception for the Weldon Amendment may not be enough to protect the state's funding.

"The Weldon Amendment… is not a conscience clause for religious entities that are morally opposed to participation in abortion services," said the WSCC. "Rather it forbids the establishment of a government mandate of abortion coverage in any health plan."

If a state does not comply with the Weldon Amendment, it would lose all federal healthcare funding. In Washington's case, such a loss would cost the state $6 billion.

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