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Texas House Passes Bill Restricting Insurance Coverage Of Abortion

Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune
State Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, discusses House Bill 214, which would limit health benefit coverage for elective abortions, on Aug. 8, 2017.

Texas women would have to pay a separate health insurance premium to get coverage for non-emergency abortions — what an opponent dubbed "rape insurance" — under a bill given early approval by the Texas House on Tuesday.

House Bill 214 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. 

State Rep. John Smithee, R- Amarillo, who is the lead author of the bill, said opponents of abortion should not have to subsidize the procedure through their insurance plans.

“This isn’t about who can get an abortion. It is about who is forced to pay for an abortion,” Smithee said.

House Democrats fought the proposal in a series of amendments, attempting to add exceptions for severe fetal abnormalities, ectopic pregnancies, rape, incest and the mental health of the mother. They also tried to remove a provision in the bill that prevented insurance companies from offering savings on premiums for the supplemental plan covering abortion — and add language that would put any of those savings into an account to fund rape kit testing.

But Republicans voted them all down, and the bill ultimately passed 95 to 51. After a final vote in the House, the measure will head to the Senate, which has already approved an identical measure.

With the supplemental abortion coverage plan, women would have to decide whether they wanted “rape insurance,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D- Fort Worth.

“Women don’t plan to be raped. Parents don’t plan for their children to be victims of incest,” he said. “Asking a woman or a parent to foresee something like that and buy supplemental insurance to cover that horrific possibility is not only ridiculous, it is cruel.” 

Because so few insurance plans actually cover abortions, state Rep. Donna Howard said, the measure is a political stunt that could have the consequence of keeping women with life-threatening conditions from receiving treatment. 

"What you are trying to prevent doesn’t exist," the Austin Democrat told Smithee. 

Smithee defended his bill, saying it was needed to keep people with moral, religious and philosophical objections from having to pay for abortions. 

With just over a week until the deadline to pass bills during the 30-day special legislative session, the House has now passed legislation on two of the three abortion-related topics Gov. Greg Abbott placed on his 20-item special session agenda. A third bill, House Bill 14, which would prevent state and local governments from contracting with abortion providers or their affiliates, has made it out of committee but has yet to be scheduled for a floor debate.

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.