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Abortion coverage to be limited in Pa. insurance policies

| Monday, June 17, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania is joining about 20 other states in limiting coverage of abortions under health care insurance policies offered in a federally run marketplace starting next year under a sweeping federal law.

The office of Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who opposes abortion rights, said he signed the bill on Monday, without offering any comment. In the past, Corbett's office has said that it would not place any greater restrictions on access to abortion than already exist.

Andrew Hoover, the legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Pennsylvania, said he is unaware of any potential legal challenges to the law. But he said the law is insensitive to women's health care needs because it would bar many policies from covering an abortion for a woman whose pregnancy could inflict long-term damage on her health.

He also said it marks the first time that the Pennsylvania government has prohibited a private insurance company from covering an abortion for a private customer who is using private money to buy the insurance.

“That's new territory for state law in Pennsylvania,” Hoover said.

Critics of the bill, primarily Democrats, say it expands restrictions on abortion rights and discriminates against poor women. Support in the Republican-controlled Legislature was bipartisan, and sponsors said it is consistent with Pennsylvania's long-standing ban on prohibiting taxpayer support for elective abortions because the insurance marketplace will be run with taxpayer money, even if some policies sold in it are purchased with private money.

They also point out that the 2010 federal health care law that created the insurance marketplaces allows the prohibition on abortion coverage in health insurance policies offered through them.

It would still allow policies sold through the federally run marketplace to cover abortions in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger. But anyone wanting coverage for most abortions would need to purchase that coverage separately outside of the marketplace.

Currently, most privately sold health insurance policies cover abortions.

A number of other states, including Florida and Ohio, restrict abortion coverage in insurance plans that will be offered through the marketplaces, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which tracks restrictions on abortion rights.

The new insurance marketplaces will allow households and small businesses to buy a private health plan, and many will get help from the government to pay their premiums. Under the law, states that can't or won't set up marketplaces — including Pennsylvania — will have theirs run by Washington.

Abortion-rights proponents in the Legislature had tried, without success, to expand the bill's exceptions to include instances when the health of the mother is at risk and to allow policies in the marketplace to include abortion coverage as long as a person used their own money to buy them.

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