Bill would ban private insurance from covering abortions

2011-02-15T14:45:00Z 2011-02-15T21:25:05Z Bill would ban private insurance from covering abortionsBy KEVIN O'HANLON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
February 15, 2011 2:45 pm  • 

Nebraska would join five other states in banning private insurers from paying for abortions unless the customer buys a separate rider for the extra coverage, under a bill being pushed by a state lawmaker.

The bill (LB22), by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, also would restrict insurance coverage of abortion in policies offered through the health insurance exchanges that will be established by the federal health care reform law. The law allows states to opt out of such coverage.

"We are an overwhelmingly pro-life state, and for that, I am very proud," McCoy said before his measure was discussed Tuesday by the Legislature's Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee.

The committee also heard another bill (LB132) by Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton that also would prohibit health exchange coverage of abortions.

Under both measures, an abortion would be allowed to protect the life of the mother. Neither makes an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion statistics, only Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma have laws restricting insurance coverage of abortion in all private insurance plans written in the state, including those that will be offered through the health insurance exchanges. Rhode Island passed a similar law, which was blocked by a court.

All five states have exceptions allowing abortion if a mother's life is in danger. Oklahoma also has an exception for rape and incest.

In all five states, additional abortion coverage is available only through purchase of a separate rider and payment of an additional premium.

McCoy's bill cites a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a 1991 case called Rust v. Sullivan that challenged regulations prohibiting recipients of federal money from providing abortions or abortion counseling. The high court rejected the challenge that the regulations violated federal law or the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Fifth Amendment right of women to choose whether to get abortions, as established in Roe v. Wade.

The health care exchanges were created last year, when President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The state-level health care exchanges, which will not be in place until 2014, are meant to help people and small businesses buy affordable private health insurance plans. The exchanges are meant to offer a choice of health insurance plans, establish common rules for such things as pricing and help consumers understand their options.

But even before the national health care law was brought into the abortion debate, 12 states, including Nebraska, already had banned or restricted abortion coverage for public employees.

A 1976 federal provision known as the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion coverage for Medicaid recipients, except in the case of rape, incest or danger to the mother's health. Congress has allowed exceptions to the ban.

Sandy Danek, president of Nebraska Right to Life, testified in support of both bills, particularly McCoy's.

"Americans agree that abortions should not be paid for with tax dollars," she said. "Polls consistently show strong majorities of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.

"LB22 does not prohibit a woman from obtaining an abortion, it merely reflects the will of the people to not use tax dollars to fund coverage for a procedure they fundamentally disagree with," she said.

McCoy's bill says, "Citizens of the state of Nebraska, like other Americans, oppose the use of public funds, both federal and state, to pay for abortions."

Attorney Alan Peterson opposed both measures, particularly McCoy's, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He said requiring women to buy separate abortion insurance would impinge on their 14th Amendment right to liberty.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has defined liberty ... to include, not as an absolute right, but as a right of women to choose with respect to this very difficult issue of abortion," he said.

Such abortion laws would "try to create additional and very substantial barriers between individual people ... and something which they have a constitutional right to choose -- a medical service," Peterson said.

"That's where the government is reaching in, grabbing a piece of the 14th Amendment, crumpling it up and throwing it away," he said.

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com

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