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Washington state moves to require insurers to cover abortions

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 6:45 p.m.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — In 1970, Washington became the first — and remains the only — state in the country to legalize elective abortions by a popular vote.

A generation later, and 40 years removed from the landmark Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling that extended abortion access nationwide, Washington is once again poised to stand out.

With 21 states having adopted bans or severe restrictions on insurance companies from paying for abortions, Washington is alone in seriously considering legislation mandating the opposite.

The Reproductive Parity Act, as supporters call it, would require insurers in Washington state that cover maternity care — which all insurers must do — to also pay for abortions.

The bill passed the state House this month by a vote of 53-43, though it has an uncertain fate in the Senate. A similar bill in the New York state Assembly has been introduced each session for over a decade but has never received a public hearing.

“This is a core value for Washingtonians,” said Melanie Smith, a lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. “We should protect it while we still have it and not leave access to basic health care up to an insurance company.”

The proximate cause of Washington state's measure is the federal Affordable Care Act. Thanks to language in it pushed by congressional Republicans, insurers selling their plans on the state exchanges taking effect next year will have to segregate the premiums they collect for abortion coverage.

In addition to that built-in disincentive to insuring abortion, the law invites states to enact stricter rules of their own. Thus far, 16 states have followed suit, barring or restricting insurance companies on their exchanges from covering the procedure.

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