WASHINGTON — Abortion opponents fought passage of President Obama's health care overhaul to the bitter end, and now that it's the law, they're using it to limit coverage by private insurers.
An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes.
"We don't consider elective abortion to be health care, so we don't think it's a bad thing for fewer private insurance companies to cover it," said Mary Harned, attorney for Americans United for Life, a national organization that wrote a model law for the states.
Abortion-rights supporters are dismayed.
"Implementation of this reform should be about increasing access to health care and increasing choices, not taking them away," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate leadership. "Health care reform is not an excuse to take rights away from women."
Since Obama signed the legislation law March 23, Arizona and Tennessee have enacted laws restricting abortion coverage by health plans in new insurance markets, called exchanges. About 30 million people will get their coverage through exchanges, which open in 2014 to serve individuals and small businesses.
In Florida, Mississippi and Missouri, lawmakers have passed bans and sent them to their governors. Most of the states allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Insurers still could offer separate policies to specifically cover abortion.
Three other states may act this year — Louisiana, Ohio and Oklahoma. Overall, there are 29 states where lawmakers or public policy groups expressed serious interest, Harned said.
"You are going to see more actions like this," said Tom McClusky, a lobbyist for the Family Research Council. "This is not something we are just going to let fall by the wayside."
Before the overhaul became law, five states had limits on private insurance coverage of abortion — Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Abortion-rights supporters are concerned that the list is growing as a result of the new federal law.