Texas GOP lawmaker pushes to ban insurance coverage for all "elective" abortions

State senate approves abortion coverage only for "medical emergencies" -- with no exception for rape or incest

Published May 5, 2015 8:31PM (EDT)

  (AP/Danny Johnston)
(AP/Danny Johnston)

What a world it would be, if it were even a little bit surprising that the Texas Senate just approved a measure to prohibit health insurance companies from covering abortion in all cases except for medical emergencies.

Alas, that is not the world we live in, and thus I have unsurprising news: On Tuesday, the Texas Senate gave its preliminary approval for SB 575, a bill to eliminate insurance coverage for "elective" abortions.

The measure, proposed by Republican State Sen. Larry Taylor, would prevent both private health insurance plans and federal plans offered through the Affordable Care Act marketplace from providing any coverage for abortion save for cases of medical emergency, such as a threat to the pregnant woman's life or major physical function. SB 575 explicitly excludes psychological and emotional conditions in its medical emergency guidelines, and also prohibits coverage for "a potential future medical condition that may result from a voluntary act of the woman or minor" -- such as, perhaps, attempting suicide in lieu of being able to terminate a pregnancy.

"This is not a ban on elective abortions," Taylor explained in a committee hearing last month. "In fact, this bill is all about choice."

According to the Texas Tribune, the senator added that the legislation is intended to give Texans a "choice" as to whether or not they will pay for other people's abortions via the health plans they buy. The bill doesn't completely limit all insurance coverage for "elective" abortions, and would allow women who do seek to terminate their pregnancies -- including victims of rape or incest -- to purchase supplemental insurance plans to cover the procedure.

As State Sen. Kirk Watson (D) pointed out in a challenge to Taylor's bill, the cost of additional insurance could easily make abortion inaccessible for women who face devastating fetal anomalies or, as previously mentioned, became pregnant as the result of rape or incest. (Of course, Taylor's Texas GOP colleague Matt Schaefer thinks women who face fetal anomalies should have to carry their non-viable pregnancies and deceased fetuses to term, a view he has worked to codify into law this session. So, at least that part is taken care of!)

Watson offered several hypothetical scenarios in which women might find themselves unable to access abortion care as a result of SB 575, which Taylor wrote off as "extreme" "worst-case scenarios." Watson's response aptly summarizes some of the most glaring issues with the bill (via Texas Tribune):

I know you don’t mean anything by the use of the word "extreme," but I think one of the things we need to do is to be sensitive to how the decisions we're making might impact people’s lives ... A person who finds themselves in any of three scenarios I just talked about might consider our actions to be extreme if we make a very difficult situation more difficult by denying insurance coverage.

The Tribune also reported on an exchange between Taylor and State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), which is so infuriating I'm just going to put it here:

[Garcia] criticized Taylor for not knowing how much supplemental insurance for abortion coverage would cost and questioned why the bill did not include an exception for abortions in cases of rape or incest.

“It just doesn’t address it,” Taylor said, adding he’d consider an amendment to include the exception. An amendment was not ultimately attached.

Garcia also raised concerns about the state singling out abortion under insurance plans and not other elective procedures.

“What if I don’t believe in vasectomies?” Garcia asked Taylor.

“That's another bill for another day,” he responded.

So, to recap: Taylor's measure could effectively eliminate abortion as an option for women who cannot afford to purchase additional insurance coverage (assuming they have insurance in the first place), or who cannot walk into a clinic and pay for the procedure out-of-pocket.

It makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. It makes no exceptions for fetal anomalies. It, like most other antiabortion measures the Texas legislature has entertained or passed, completely fails to consider the actual reality and lived experiences of the thousands of Texans it will inevitably affect.

If the measure passes, Texas will become the 11th state to prohibit all comprehensive insurance plans from covering abortion, and the 16th to prohibit abortion coverage from federal health plans; it will also mean more terribly unsurprising news from the Lone Star state.

By Jenny Kutner

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