The Senate of Virginia on Friday will vote to pass legislation out of the body that would allow for private health insurance companies offering plans through the state exchange to have the option for abortion coverage.
Senate Bill 1276 was introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond City), who is also a gubernatorial candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, and co-sponsored by three other Democratic legislators.
Specifically, the legislation would remove from the Virginia code section § 38.2-3451 a prohibition on qualified health insurance plans sold through an exchange in the Commonwealth providing coverage for abortions.
“The way the law is now, if the private company wanted to provide [abortion coverage] they couldn’t,” McClellan said in an interview with The Virginia Star. “This bill doesn’t force them to do it [and] doesn’t fund it through public funds. So, I think for the folks who may not like the service, they understand that this is about the choice of as a private business I’m able to offer coverage that my patients want.”
One organization in strong opposition to McClellan’s bill is the Virginia Society of Human Life (VSHL), a nonprofit group advocating for the end of abortion in the Commonwealth through education and legislative action.
VSHL President Olivia Turner expressed concerns that the bill will lead to health insurance plans with abortion coverage being funded through individual’s taxes, particularly those whose personal ethics go against the practice.
“While this bill does not explicitly require any of the plans to pay for abortions, there is absolutely no doubt that under the current climate there will be many plans offered in the state that will cover abortion and every one of those is paid for by Virginians’ tax dollars,” Turner told The Star. “So, whether or not you get your health insurance by purchasing one of these plans, you will be paying for abortions in someone else’s plan. That is the risk.”
With Democrats holding a 21-18 majority in the Senate over Republicans, as well as Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (D) having the ability to break a tie, the measure is likely to pass during Friday’s session with general support among progressive lawmakers.
“I think that people ought to have the option to have that as coverage,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) who voted for the legislation in committee. “This is about leveling the playfield, making sure that women who don’t have resources have access to abortion services.”
Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), considered to be more moderate among Senate Democrats, said he typically opposes abortion services being paid for with money from taxes, but didn’t object to private health insurance plans having a non-mandated option for members.
When asked about voting in support of the bill, Petersen said he probably would, but that he had not read it yet as of Thursday morning.
Fellow Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond City), who has voted against legislation relating to abortion issues previously, told The Star that he needed to not only study the bill more carefully, but also listen to any debates on the Senate floor that might arise Friday before offering his voting preference.
However, Morrissey did note: “I don’t have to hesitate to say that my personal proclivities and feelings being pro-life certainly reflected itself in the way I voted last year on abortion bills and I don’t see things changing this year.”
Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) predicted that it will be a close vote, which is an indication that the vast majority of Republican members will oppose passage.
“Individually, I have mixed emotions on that,” Norment said. “My question is whether or not we ought to preclude health insurance carriers from affording that opportunity, and at this point I do not anticipate that I will be supporting it.”
Norment then went on to say that he will probably not vote on the bill at all, just as he did during committee earlier this week.
According to the Senate’s daily floor calendar for Friday, SB 1276 is last among bills up for a passage vote that the body will take action on.
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