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Lawmakers Uphold Ban on Abortion Coverage

April 7, 2011

By Erica Terrini
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Abortion will not be covered by certain private insurance plans in Virginia after the General Assembly on Wednesday upheld Gov. Bob McDonnell’s amendments to Virginia’s Healthcare Exchange Act.

The General Assembly on Wednesday night approved the governor’s proposals to ban private insurers from covering abortions if they participate in Virginia’s health-care exchange program.

The House of Delegates voted 59-36 in favor of McDonnell’s amendments. The Senate deadlocked 20-20, but Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the chamber’s presiding offer, broke the tie by voting for the restrictions on abortion coverage.

The votes occurred during the assembly’s “reconvened session,” a one-day meeting to consider vetoes and changes that McDonnell made to legislation passed earlier this year.

Lawmakers upheld McDonnell’s amendments despite protests from Delegate Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and abortion rights advocacy groups. They held a press conference Tuesday to protest the Republican governor’s attempt to prohibit abortion coverage by insurers participating in the exchange to be created as part of the federal government’s new health care law.

“This is an assault on women’s health, and a play for political points,” Herring said. “The Virginia exchange is supposed to make health care more accessible, not less. This is an undue burden placed on women.”

Last week, McDonnell amended House Bill 2434, which had been introduced by Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City. The bill allows the state to enact a health care exchange under the federal legislation.

The federal law already prohibits tax dollars from funding abortions except in the case of rape or incest or if the woman’s life is at risk. McDonnell’s amendments will apply such restrictions to private insurance offered through the Virginia health exchange.

McDonnell’s amendment states “that no qualified health insurance plan that is sold or offered for sale through an exchange established or operating in the commonwealth shall provide coverage for abortions, regardless of whether such coverage is provided through the plan or is offered as a separate optional rider thereto.”

The amendment would allow abortion coverage only “when the life of the mother is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, or when the pregnancy is the result of an alleged act of rape or incest.”

McDonnell added another amendment stating that HB 2434 should not “be construed or implied to recognize the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.” Virginia has filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the federal health care law.

Herring wrote the governor this week, saying his amendments would not only limit the reproductive health services available to women in Virginia but also restrict “the marketplace” by limiting the types of coverage private companies are able to sell.

“The McDonnell administration has prided itself in continuing the tradition of making the commonwealth business friendly, and this amendment flies in the face of tradition,” Herring said.

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At the press conference, Herring was joined by such groups as NARAL Virginia, Planned Parenthood Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women. Herring and the organizations’ representatives wore purple ribbons to represent reproductive freedom.

“It was absolutely necessary to call attention to something that is the greatest government intrusion to women’s health care,” said Jessica Honke, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Virginia. “Private insurance companies should not be told what they cannot cover, and this is health insurance that women currently have that will be taken away from them.”

However, groups such as the Family Foundation supported McDonnell’s amendments.

“Without a change like the governor’s amendment, pro-life citizens opposed to abortion will be mandated to fund this unethical destruction of human life,” said Virginia Cobb, the foundation’s president.

This is the second time in recent weeks that abortion has been the focus of debate in the General Assembly.

In late February, legislators narrowly passed a bill that classifies clinics where first-trimester abortions are performed as hospitals and holds them to the same standards on “construction, maintenance, operation, staffing, equipping, staff qualifications and training.” Abortion rights advocates say that measure, Senate Bill 924, will force most of Virginia’s 21 clinics to close. McDonnell signed the bill into law.

The votes on SB 924 mirrored Wednesday’s votes on McDonnell’s amendments to restrict abortion insurance coverage.

The amendments easily passed in the House, where Republicans have a solid majority. In the Senate, two Democrats – Phillip Puckett of Tazewell and Charles Colgan of Manassas – joined with the 18 Republicans to form a 20-20 tie. Bolling, a Republican who as lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, then settled the issue.


How They Voted

Here is how the House of Delegates voted Wednesday on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s amendments to HB 2434 (Health benefits exchange; intent to develop). The House adopted the amendments by a vote of 59 yeas, 36 nays and 3 abstentions.

YEAS – Abbitt, Albo, Anderson, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Carrico, Cleaveland, Cline, Cole, Comstock, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Cox, M.K., Crockett-Stark, Edmunds, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Helsel, Hugo, Iaquinto, Ingram, Janis, Johnson, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Massie, May, Merricks, Miller, J.H., Nutter, O’Bannon, Oder, Orrock, Peace, Phillips, Pogge, Poindexter, Purkey, Putney, Robinson, Rust, Scott, E.T., Sherwood, Stolle, Tata, Villanueva, Ware, R.L., Wilt, Wright, Mr. Speaker – 59.

NAYS – Abbott, Alexander, Armstrong, BaCote, Barlow, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Ebbin, Englin, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, Howell, A.T., James, Joannou, Keam, Kory, Lewis, McClellan, McQuinn, Miller, P.J., Morgan, Morrissey, Plum, Pollard, Scott, J.M., Shuler, Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Watts – 36.

ABSTENTIONS – Dance, Marshall, R.G., Torian – 3.

NOT VOTING – Athey, Morefield – 2.

Here is how the Senate voted Wednesday on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s amendments to HB 2434. The Senate concurred in the amendments. The vote was 20 yeas and 20 nays; Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling then voted yea.

YEAS – Blevins, Colgan, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Puckett, Quayle, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner, Wampler, Watkins – 20.

NAYS – Barker, Deeds, Edwards, Herring, Houck, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Northam, Petersen, Puller, Reynolds, Saslaw, Ticer, Whipple – 20.

Mr. President: YEA