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Bill Restricting Abortion Insurance Gets Initial Nod In Texas Senate

Marjorie Kamys Cotera
The Texas Tribune
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, on July 26, 2017.

Texas women would have to pay a separate health insurance premium to get coverage for non-emergency abortions under a bill tentatively passed by the Texas Senate Wednesday.

State Sen. Brandon Creighton, the Conroe Republican who is the lead author of the bill, said opponents of abortion should not be forced to pay for the procedure through their insurance plans and employers should be able to choose whether to include abortions in their health coverage.

“I believe the majority of Texans do not prefer to subsidize the elective abortion coverage of others,” Creighton said.

Senate Bill 8, which passed on a 20 to 10 vote, requires women to pay an additional insurance premium if they want their health plan to cover abortions performed outside of medical emergencies. It does not contain exceptions for instances of fetal abnormalities, rape or incest. If the measure receives final approval from the Senate, it will head to the House.

Democrats fought the measure, saying no one can anticipate needing an abortion, and forcing people to pay for the procedure as supplemental coverage would have a heavy impact on low-income Texans.

"It’s really another way to take away a women’s right to make a decision, make a choice, about her health care needs and her pregnancy,” said state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to add exceptions for coverage in cases of fetal abnormalities, rape, incest, and when the mental health of the mother is threatened. They also proposed a series of amendments that would require coverage of procedures like fertility treatments and vasectomies. All failed. 


"Sexual assault or incest is not elective to the victim," said state Sen.Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. "Nobody plans for an abortion, but we surely darn well know that it’s not a woman who is pregnant after a case of incest or sexual assault."

State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said it was unclear from the definition of "medical emergency" in the bill whether a woman who needed an abortion after having a miscarriage would have her procedure covered. Creighton disagreed, saying once a miscarriage occurred, the procedure would no longer be considered an abortion.

Just over a week into the 30-day special legislative session, the Senate has now passed legislation on all three of the abortion-related topics Gov. Greg Abbott placed on his 20-item special session agenda. The House still has not debated its own versions of the abortion legislation, though lawmakers in that chamber began hearings on the bills this week. 

The vote comes after senators approved another anti-abortion measure, Senate Bill 4, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

State and federal law already prohibit tax dollars from paying for abortions, but SB 4 by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, would broaden that ban to include any financial contracts — such as lease agreements — with clinics that are affiliated with abortion providers but don't actually perform abortions. Such clinics provide other healthcare like HIV and family planning services, and breast and cervical cancer screenings. 

Senators acknowledged during a Friday hearing that the only abortion provider in the state affected by the bill would be Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions at surgical centers separate from their clinics that offer standard reproductive healthcare. According to the organization’s latest report, abortions made up 3 percent of procedures done in 2015.

The Senate passed two other anti-abortion measures this week, which would require physicians and facilities to report more details about abortions — and fine those who do not comply. 

Under state Sen. Donna Campbell’s Senate Bill 10, in procedures where complications occur, physicians would be required to submit reports to the state health commission that include information like a patient’s birth year, race, marital status, the date of her last menstrual cycle, the number of previous abortions, and the number of previous live births.

Physicians who fail to comply with the reporting requirements within 72 hours would face a $500 fine for each day of each violation. 

The reporting requirements in Senate Bill 73, from state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would include whether minors seeking abortions did so because of a medical emergency and whether they obtained parental consent or a judicial bypass.

Reproductive rights advocates said the requirements would violate the privacy rights of doctors and patients — and represented another attempt to obstruct access to abortion in the state.

Campbell said current reporting requirements on abortion complications were “sporadic and inefficient.”

“Collecting this data is important to guarantee best medical practices,” said Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican. "We are doing something wrong to have 50,000 abortions in Texas and have such a low number of complications reporting, or we are doing something right, so why not validate it.” 

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Morgan Smith reports on politics and education for the Tribune, which she joined in November 2009. She writes about the effects of the state budget, school finance reform, accountability and testing in Texas public schools. Her political coverage has included congressional and legislative races, as well as Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign, which she followed to Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2013, she received a National Education Writers Association award for "Death of a District," a series on school closures. After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Wellesley College, she moved to Austin in 2008 to enter law school at the University of Texas. A San Antonio native, her work has also appeared in Slate, where she spent a year as an editorial intern in Washington D.C.