McDonnell aims to block abortion coverage

March 26, 2013

RICHMOND — Health plans offered to Virginians through federal insurance exchanges could not cover most abortions under amendments that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has proposed to two General Assembly bills.

The Republican governor’s recommendations, which the legislature could accept or reject along with McDonnell’s other amendments when it reconvenes April 3, does not represent a shift in state policy.

Two years ago, the General Assembly voted to prohibit abortion coverage in any insurance policies sold under any state-based insurance exchange set up under the federal Affordable Care Act.

↑Back then, it was assumed that if “Obamacare” withstood a Supreme Court challenge, Virginia would operate its own exchange, the marketplace for insurance coverage provided for under the law. But Virginia has since opted, at least for now, to operate under a federal exchange.

The amendments are intended to ensure that coverage is not allowed under the federal exchange. McDonnell attached them to two identical bills establishing the framework for how the federal insurance marketplace will operate in Virginia.

“No qualified health insurance plan that is sold or offered for sale through an exchange established or operating in the Commonwealth shall provide coverage for abortions, regardless of whether such coverage is provided through the plan or is offered as a separate optional rider thereto ...,” the amendment reads.

The amendments make exceptions for cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk.

“Governor McDonnell has always maintained a pro-life stance,” said McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell. “These amendments continue a policy established by the General Assembly in 2011 when it passed initial legislation to govern the possibility of a state-run health exchange. While Virginia has now notified the federal government that it will participate in a federal exchange, the policy toward restricting federal funding from paying for abortions as part of this exchange has not changed.”

McDonnell’s amendments were welcomed by anti-abortion groups.

“The President and Congress gave the states the authority to protect taxpayers from being forced to subsidize elective abortion through these exchanges, and that is what this amendment accomplishes,” Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, said in a written statement. “We applaud the Governor for his consistency on this issue and urge the General Assembly to protect Virginia taxpayers by adopting this amendment.”

Abortion-rights groups condemned the amendments.

“With this amendment, Governor McDonnell is once again attempting to intrude in women’s health care decisions and block Virginians access to the critical medical care they need,” said Caroline O’Shea, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. ... “By banning women from using their own funds to purchase plans that include this common benefit, Governor McDonnell is restricting Virginians’ personal economic decisions as well as their access to comprehensive care.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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