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Bill would make abortion coverage extra

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Friday, Feb. 12, 2010, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 12, 2010, at 5:37 a.m.

TOPEKA — Abortion opponents want the state to bar private insurance companies from automatically covering elective abortions, except in extreme cases.

Those who want coverage would have to buy a separate rider at an additional cost.

House Bill 2564 would not apply in cases of rape or incest if a police report was filed, or when needed to save a woman's life.

Supporters of applying the restriction to all health plans in Kansas maintain that policyholders shouldn't have to pay for a procedure they may find immoral, or subsidize abortions for other women through their premiums.

"Abortion destroys unborn children and harms women," said Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist for Kansans For Life. "The current situation of automatically covering abortion has infuriated many individuals."

Abortion rights supporters said whether or not abortion should be covered is a decision better left to the private market.

"This is a matter of private money and private insurance," said Kari Ann Rinker, lobbyist for Kansas National Organization for Women. "Let the private market sort out these issues rather than having a state mandate to address it."

If people have a problem with abortions being covered by their insurance policy, they should take the complaint to the company or their employer, she said. Companies have been covering abortions for 25 years.

The Kansas proposal would allow insurance to pay for an abortion in cases of rape or incest, if it was reported to law enforcement first.

Opponents of the bill said reporting a rape can be traumatic and victims don't always feel ready to report the crime right away.

Often, victims are afraid of law enforcement or don't want to deal with the publicity that can come with a judicial case, said Sandy Barnett, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

"If they have not reported it to law enforcement during this time and learn they are pregnant as a result of the rape and then they decide to terminate the pregnancy, it is an inhumane trauma to expect them to worry about health care, law enforcement and insurance during this period," she said.

Rep. Steven Brunk, R-Bel Aire, noted that people need to file a police report to make other insurance claims, though that doesn't rise to the same emotional level.

"You would have to have some kind of evidence that somebody actually stole your car, stole your high-definition TV or took something from you," he said.

If there is to be an exclusion for rape in the bill, there needs to be some evidence of that, he said.

Sarah Gillooly, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, pointed out that the measure would bar coverage in cases where the fetus had a terminal condition or the mother's health was endangered.

She also noted that women who seek an abortion wouldn't know they needed that coverage until it's too late.

Gillooly told the House Insurance Committee about her sister, who became pregnant. Three months into the pregnancy, her sister and brother-in-law discovered the fetus, which they had chosen a name for, had Turner syndrome and would not survive the pregnancy.

At 20 weeks into the pregnancy, they decided to induce labor, which is considered an abortion at that point, Gillooly said. The couple felt they could not provide palliative care and wanted to hold their child.

Insurance paid for the procedure, but wouldn't under the bill because her sister's life was not in danger, Gillooly said. Her sister never would have purchased an additional insurance rider to cover an abortion because she "never intended to have a pregnancy that ended in Turner syndrome."

Missouri, Oklahoma and four other states bar private insurance from covering abortions except in specific circumstances such as preserving the woman's life. Kansas and several other states already prohibit abortion coverage in their state employee insurance plans.

"This is not a unique concept, and we are somewhat late in the game," said Gawdun, the lobbyist for Kansans For Life.

Chairman Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, said he expected the committee to debate the bill next week.

Contributing: David Klepper of The Kansas City Star Reach Jeannine Koranda at 785-296-3006 or jkoranda@wichitaeagle.com.

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