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Reproductive Parity Act passes in House; Freeman votes no
Courtesy of Zoey Palmer, WNPA Olympia News Bureau:
The Reproductive Parity Act, a controversial bill that would require insurance plans that cover live births to also cover abortions, was passed by the state House of Representatives Friday morning after heated debate from both sides of the issue.
The 53-43 vote was largely along party lines. Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5th District, Issaquah) was the sole Republican who voted in favor of the measure. Rep. Roger Freeman (D-30th District, Federal Way) and Rep. Christopher Hurst (D-Enumclaw) were the only Democrats who dissented.
“I believe the government is overreaching in imposing its will over insurance companies and those who offer insurance to their employees through the Reproductive Parity Act. It is a mandate without a clear alternative," Freeman said in a statement to the Federal Way Mirror.
"Attempts to include a robust and defensible ‘conscience clause’ – which would exempt those with religious objections to providing abortion coverage – were not included in the legislation. As such, I could not support it and I believe it is an infringement on our religious liberties," Freeman said. "My personal faith tells me that life begins at conception. While I believe that other people have a right to their own opinions, I cannot support a policy that conflicts with my deeply-held convictions.”
Proponents of the bill are concerned that, once certain parts of the federal Affordable Care Act go into effect in January 2014, insurance carriers in Washington that currently cover abortions may raise premiums or stop covering the procedure entirely.
"We've gotta act now if we want to make sure that women are going to be able to maintain these choices," Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27th District, Tacoma) said during the House session Friday.
Rep. Norma Smith (R-10th District, Oak Harbor) spoke passionately against the bill, arguing that it forces individuals who are morally opposed to abortion to pay for coverage they don't want. Smith said that, rather than ensuring choice, the bill removes the option to not have abortion coverage.
"I want the choice to have a carrier that may align themselves with my core values," she said.
In a press release Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, praised the House for passing the bill:
"Today's vote in the House is a big step forward in guaranteeing women's access to a full range of reproductive health-care services."
Exemptions in the bill allow religious organizations to not cover the procedure, but some have argued the exemptions aren't strong enough. An amendment offered by Rep. Jay Rodne (R-5th District, Issaquah) intended to bolster those protections.
A similar amendment by the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Eileen Cody (D-34th District, Shorewood), contains strengthened religious protections as well as requirements that an insurance carrier must notify subscribers about coverage it opts not to offer.
Both amendments passed.
Federal funds cannot by law be used to fund abortions; a federally regulated health plan that would not cover abortions is slated to start in January 2017.
The bill, designated EHB 1044, next goes to the Senate for consideration. Its Senate companion bill, SB 5798, did not get a hearing before the Legislature's policy cutoff date, but had 23 co-sponsors from the 49 total Senate membership, two shy of a majority, which would be needed to approve such a measure.