McDonnell adds abortion restriction to insurance-exchange legislation

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Robert F. Mc­Don­nell has added an amendment restricting insurance coverage for abortion into a bill approved by the General Assembly establishing a health insurance exchange as part of the federal health-care overhaul.

The health insurance exchange would be managed by the state and allow individuals and some small businesses to pool together to buy insurance at lower rates. Some who cannot afford insurance would receive government subsidies.

Under the federal law, states were given the option of creating their own exchanges or using ones operated by the federal government.

The bill approved by the General Assembly stated Virginia’s intent to create its own exchange, and directed state regulators to figure out how to run it.

After the bill reached Mc­Don­nell (R) for his signature, he added an amendment that would prohibit any insurance plan offered as part of the exchange from including coverage for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

“The governor does not believe elective abortions should be covered through the exchange or with taxpayer dollars,” said Mc­Don­nell spokesman Tucker Martin. “This is consistent with his pro-life position and policies passed with bipartisan backing at both the state and federal levels.”

Abortion opponents across the country have been working to get the health-care exchanges to exclude abortion coverage, and similar measures are pending in more than 20 states. They say a government-managed market should not allow dollars to be spent on the procedure.

“Taxpayers don’t want to see the government entangled with the abortion issue in any way,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia.

She said seven states have adopted similar legislation.

Advocates for abortion rights say the measures are part of a national drive by conservatives to restrict access to abortion.

Federal and state law prohibit using tax dollars for abortions except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk. McDonnell’s amendment would extend such prohibitions to insurance plans purchased by individuals in exchanges.

Jessica Honke, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, called that a “stark departure from the status quo” that would disproportionately affect low-income women.

“He’s using every opportunity he can to attack women’s health care,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

McDonnell’s proposal also would prohibit insurance companies from selling optional riders that cover abortion.

The General Assembly will consider McDonnell’s amendments on Wednesday. A majority must vote to accept the amendment for it to become part of a law. A majority of the GOP-led House of Delegates has expressed support for limiting abortion coverage in the state’s health-care exchange.

Democrats, who hold a narrow majority in the state Senate, will probably fight the amendment. But two Democrats in the chamber generally support abortion restrictions. If both voted to accept the amendment, the chamber would be split 20 to 20, and the tie-breaking vote would fall to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who opposes abortion.

The same vote count resulted in the passage this year of a bill signed into law by Mc­Don­nell that adds regulations for abortion clinics.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington County), chairwoman of the Democratic caucus in the state Senate, said her party would fight the amendment, noting that Mc­Don­nell and other Republicans have objected to the federal law because it requires individuals to spend their money on insurance.

“It’s a little ironic,” she said. “In this case, they want to tell people what they can and can’t do with their own money, and private companies what they can and can’t do with their product.”

 
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