Washington state may require insurers to cover abortion

With Arkansas and North Dakota on a race to the bottom with draconian abortion laws, Washington stands up for women

Published April 2, 2013 4:28PM (EDT)

  (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)
(Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

Washington lawmakers are currently debating a measure that would require almost all health insurers to cover abortion.

A state Legislature actually wants to strengthen women's access to abortion -- and it's not even April Fools' Day!

The Reproductive Parity Act passed the Democrat-controlled statehouse in February, with a religious conscience exemption for employers and insurance carriers that oppose abortion. Supporters are optimistic that they will have the votes to pass the measure if it reaches the floor, but Democrats have a very narrow majority in the state Senate and a yes vote could prove tricky.

Democrats have 26 seats to the Republicans' 23, but as the New York Times notes:

The Republican minority was joined in December by two Democrats, creating a bipartisan ruling group. The coalition’s majority leader, Senator Rodney Tom, a Democrat, supports abortion rights, but many of the members of the coalition he leads go the other way. That means that if the bill reaches the floor, passage would require a flip side of the leadership coalition — Democrats leading the yes votes, presumably with Senator Tom back among his old caucus.

But Washington has a history of supporting abortion rights. The state legalized abortion through a popular vote in 1970, three years before the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, and reproductive rights advocates view the Reproductive Parity Act as keeping with Washington's pro-choice track record.

“Today every carrier and nearly every plan in Washington already covers abortion,” Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest CEO Elaine Rose told the Senate Health Care Committee on Monday. “The Reproductive Parity Act will keep it that way.”

While lawmakers in North Dakota and Arkansas prepare for legal challenges to state bans on abortion at six and 12 weeks, respectively; Washington's decision to buck the national trend of restricting women's access to abortion has come as a relief to many advocates for women's reproductive rights. (This one included.)

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Abortion Abortion Care Reproductive Rights Roe V. Wade Women's Rights