Pittsburgh, PA: Today Pennsylvanians for Choice, a statewide coalition of pro-choice organizations, denounced proposed legislation that would severely restrict access to abortion care in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 1399, introduced by Senator Don White (R-11) would ban private insurance plans sold in Pennsylvania’s state exchange, created under health care reform, from covering even medically necessary abortion procedures.
“Today, most private insurance plans cover abortion care,” said Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project. “Senator White’s proposal would leave women worse off than they were before health care reform began.” Under Senator White’s bill, no abortion plan that contracts with the state exchange would be permitted to cover abortion except in the narrowest circumstances.
With an estimated 80% of private insurance plans currently covering abortion procedures, coalition spokespeople said that a ban of this magnitude would have a devastating effect on Pennsylvania women.
"Aside from having some of the oldest and most stringent abortion laws in the nation, Pennsylvania, like every other state, is bound by the Nelson abortion provision to the federal health care law,” said Sari Stevens, Executive Director of the Harrisburg-based Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. Under the Nelson abortion provision, any health insurance plan that contracts with the exchange is required to implement a complex system of segregation to ensure no federal funds are used for abortion coverage - including the collection of two separate payments from the beneficiary, one for abortion coverage and one for all other health care coverage.
“Poll after poll shows that Pennsylvanians are not interested in reopening the debate around abortion. I urge Pennsylvania lawmakers to follow the lead of their constituents and support measures to prevent unintended pregnancy in the first place,” added Stevens. The insurance exchanges, slated to be available for enrollment in 2014, will serve those who do not have access to employer-based health plans including the unemployed and small business employees.
The proposed ban would deny insurance plans participating in the exchange from covering abortion care except in cases where the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or where the life of the woman is in danger. Frietsche pointed out that “in the Medicaid context, Pennsylvania courts have already ruled that it’s unconstitutional to make rape survivors jump through the kind of insulting and burdensome hoops this bill would create.” The bill would require rape survivors to “personally” report the crime and identify the assailant, if known, within 72 hours in order for their health insurance to cover an abortion procedure.
“The White bill is a throwback to the days when society blamed rape victims for somehow being responsible for the violence that was done to them,” Frietsche commented. “Pennsylvania lawmakers really should have moved beyond these gender stereotypes by now.”
“Instead of denying Pennsylvania women access to fundamental reproductive health care services, politicians should be working to protect and advance women’s health,” concluded Rebecca Foley of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit WOMEN’S WAY. “This proposed ban will leave many Pennsylvania women without coverage for safe, legal, and critical care.”