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Bill would ban insurance for abortions in Pa.

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Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011

HARRISBURG - The state House debated a bill on Wednesday that would prohibit insurance coverage of abortions for low-income people under health insurance exchanges that the federal health care law would establish in 2014.

The House may consider the legislation for final passage next week, said Rep. Matt Baker, R-Wellsboro, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

The insurance exchanges would provide coverage for people now uninsured or those who can't afford much insurance, including between 700,000 and 1 million people in the state, according to figures from the Pennsylvania Health Law Project.

The Supreme Court must uphold the health care law for the state exchanges to become a reality. Baker said state officials are debating exactly what the exchanges would look like and what they will do. Loosely defined, the exchanges are government-created marketplaces to make insurance more affordable.

The intent of the bill by Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion County, is to prevent coverage for most abortions under the exchanges because they will be supported with public money. She said her bill is consistent with existing state law that prevents public money to be used for abortions.

Oberlander has 46 co-sponsors for her bill.

"Our commonwealth has a long history of not using commonwealth or federal funds in furtherance of abortions," said Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County. Exceptions are averting the death of the mother, incest or rape, he said.

"If you're not wealthy, you're going to have to go through the exchanges, and you won't have choice (on abortion)," said Rep. Mike Gerber, D-Montgomery County. "You're taking a woman's right to choose away because you are making it unaffordable ... that my friends, is why I find this so reprehensible."

The House rejected an amendment by Rep. Eddie Day Pashinki, D-Luzerne County, to extend coverage of abortions for women facing serious health problems.

Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, complained the Legislature appears to spend more time focusing on abortion restrictions than dealing with the economy.

"The voters are fed up with the divisive social agenda of this legislature," Stevens said. She cited a poll by Susquehanna Polling and Research in February showing 79 percent of Pennsylvanians supported an abortion if necessary to protect the woman's health.

Despite action in both chambers, the House and Senate have been unable to agree on legislation that increases oversight of abortion clinics in the aftermath of criminal charges against a Philadelphia doctor accused of murdering a patient and killing seven late-term babies with scissors. The House approved a bill in May, and the Senate approved a similar one in June to hold abortion clinics to the same standards as surgical clinics.

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