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Proposed abortion bills draw focus of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, Women's Law Project

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 11:44 p.m.

Pro-abortion-rights groups in Pittsburgh are calling attention to legislation that would restrict coverage in the insurance exchanges that take effect next year.

While acknowledging that the measures are likely to pass the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania and the Women's Law Project are pushing for an exception to be added that would allow abortions if a woman's health is at risk.

“Ultimately, we would not like to see the bill pass,” said Rebecca Cavanaugh, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood. “I think, realistically looking at the makeup of the House, that this will pass.”

The bills — Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 818 — would prevent health insurers from providing coverage for abortions in the plans they will sell in the health insurance exchange that provides people with federal subsidies to buy coverage starting Jan. 1. The proposals carve out limited exceptions where abortion is allowed: cases of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger.

Adding a health-risk exception would protect women who want to have a baby but have medical complications during pregnancy that threaten their long-term health but not their life, Cavanaugh said.

Sen. Don White, R-Indiana and sponsor of the Senate bill, “believes ObamaCare's taxpayer subsidized health insurance exchanges should not pay for elective abortions,” said Joe Pittman, White's chief of staff.

“Public opinion surveys consistently demonstrate broad agreement with Sen. White's view — and Pennsylvania's current public policy — that taxpayer dollars should not be used to pay for elective abortions,” Pittman said.

Although President Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act, outlaws the use of federal money for abortions, the law gives states the discretion to enact their own state-specific restrictions.

“We're only exercising something that the (law) says we can do,” Pittman said.

The state's Medical Assistance program restricts abortion coverage to cases of rape or incest, or to protect the life of the mother, he said.

Rep. Donna Oberlander, a Clarion County Republican and sponsor of the House bill, could not be reached for comment.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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