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Wash. Abortion Coverage Bill Placed On Hold

A bill that would require insurers to cover abortion services is off the table this year in Washington state.

A special session of the Washington legislature ended Wednesday without the Reproductive Parity Act reaching a vote. The bill would require private insurers that provide maternity coverage to also cover abortion.

Advocates now hope to reintroduce the bill next year.

“We will be back in 2013,” said Lisa Stone, executive director of Legal Voice, a nonprofit focused on women’s rights in the Northwest. “We think it can pass, and we’re not going to stop until it does.”

Another option for the Reproductive Parity Act would be a state ballot initiative, but advocates have no such plans for this election year, said Alison Mondi, a spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. Stone expressed confidence the bill would have the votes necessary for passage if it made its way to the floor again. Legislative action would also be far cheaper than a ballot initiative, she said.

Advocates had expected the Reproductive Parity Act to pass this year, given a Democratic-controlled House and Senate, and an expected signature from Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire. But this year’s push was marred by “bad luck,” according to Stone. While under consideration, the bill faced its share of challenges. For instance, it was amended in order to provide insurers a religious/conscience exemption and to avoid conflict with federal law. The latter raised concerns among members of Congress, who wrote a letter to President Obama warning the bill “would have far reaching and alarming consequences for the citizens of Washington state who embrace life.”

And in the end, after making it through the House, the bill was blocked by Senate procedural maneuvers related to the budget, and it fell prey to the uncertainty of a special legislative session.

According to Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for Washington’s insurance commissioner, all individual and small-group plans in the state already cover abortion, but information about employer-based plans is unavailable.