The House of Delegates has approved SB 1276, a bill that allows abortions to be included in coverage from private insurance companies listed on the commonwealth’s healthcare exchange. On Thursday, the Senate passed a companion bill, HB 1896, 22 to 17.
“The way the law is now, if the private company wanted to provide [abortion coverage] they couldn’t,” SB 1276 sponsor Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) said in January. “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.”
Virginia Catholic Conference Executive Director Jeff Caruso told The Star in an email that taxes would go to abortions if the bills pass.
“Tax money pays for managing the exchange, and tax money (federal subsidies) pays for many of the plans people access on the exchange,” he said. “SB 1276/HB 1896 would allow these taxpayer-funded plans to cover abortion for any reason.”
Currently, Virginia law allows abortion in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. Abortions after the second trimester are only legal if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or seriously threatens her health.
In 2020, the General Assembly expanded access to abortions. “It now will be legal for non-physicians to perform abortions and abortion clinics will no longer have to meet established medical safety standards – something especially dangerous in the midst of a pandemic,” Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) said in a statement last summer. “The law also allows abortion clinics to deny women the right to receive the results of tests performed on them prior to an abortion.”
In January, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia said in a news release, “Last year the passing of the Reproductive Health Protection Act removed harmful and nonsensical restrictions to abortion access, such as mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds. To create even more access this year, we are focusing on removing the ban against insurance plans that provide abortion coverage on the state insurance exchange. This bill would not require that insurance plans cover abortion on the exchange but would remove the ban for offering the coverage option.”
NARAL said the bill was important given high unemployment.
“Insurance purchased through the state exchange is the only option for many who are unemployed or low-income,” the organization said. “This current coverage ban leaves hundreds of thousands of Virginia’s with no affordable or accessible abortion care options.”
Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign SB 1276. In another update sent before the House approved SB 1276, NARAL said, “Should the bills pass in the opposite chamber after crossover, and Governor Northam signs them (which he will!), Virginia will be the first Southern state to repeal this kind of restriction and make history again for the Commonwealth.”
Pro-life advocates have been on edge after the pro-abortion legislation passed in 2020. In particular, activists worried about a reproductive liberty amendment from 2020 that was continued to the 2021 session, although the amendment died in committee in December. “This so-called reproductive liberty amendment is nothing more that, an unchecked right to abortion,” Virginia Society for Human Life President Olivia Turner wrote in July.
Speaking in January about SB 1276, Turner told The Star, “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.”
Caruso said, “Taxpayers should not be forced to fund abortions. Sixty percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.”
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