State Senate Committee Approves Abortion Coverage Ban

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 2:22 pm  

LITTLE ROCK - An Arkansas Senate panel approved a measure Wednesday banning insurers participating in an exchange created under the health care law from covering most abortions, while the sponsor of legislation banning abortions 20 weeks into a pregnancy said he's facing resistance for it not exempting victims of rape or incest.

By a 5-2 vote, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee advanced legislation barring abortion coverage in the health insurance exchange, with exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. One Democratic member of the panel voted "present" on the measure.

The measure heads to a Senate that's already approved a measure that would ban most abortions in the state. If enacted, that ban would likely be the most restrictive in the nation.

The legislation advanced by the Senate panel Wednesday would allow abortion coverage through supplemental policies, an option that opponents say is not currently available in the state. Proponents said they're merely taking advantage of a provision in the 2010 health overhaul that allows states to set policies on abortion coverage in the exchanges, marketplaces for individuals and businesses to buy insurance.

"Without this law, those who are responsible for setting up our health care exchanges will be left without clear guidance from the Legislature about how to deal with abortion as they deal with the recently passed federal health care law," Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, the panel's chairman, told lawmakers.

Opponents, however, warned that the measure would prevent women from purchasing insurance coverage that would cover abortions.

"You are banning a woman's right to choose to do this with her own money," said Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas.

The measure, which the House approved this week, is one of several new abortion restrictions lawmakers are considering after Republicans won control of the Legislature in last year's election.

The chief sponsor of another restriction that would ban most abortions at 20 weeks into a pregnancy said he's delaying bringing his proposal before the same panel after concerns were raised about its lack of an exemption for rape or incest. The measure by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, would ban abortions based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks.

"I think a couple members of the committee might be more supportive of it if it had one in there," said Mayberry, who said he doesn't plan on changing the legislation.

The panel is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and Mayberry said he had the support of the four GOP members on the committee. Two Democrats on the panel said they're worried about the lack of an exemption.

"It just gives me a little bit of concern, certainly," said Sen. Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, who supported the abortion coverage ban.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.