Bill banning abortion coverage from insurance plans passes after legislative marathon

TOPEKA — After working through the night and with several stops and starts, both houses of the Legislature passed a bill that will require most women who want an abortion to pay the full cost of the procedure themselves.

House Bill 2075 bars insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their regular health coverage plans. Under the bill's provisions, general insurance plans could cover termination of pregnancy only in emergency situations to save the life of the mother.

It is the fourth major anti-abortion law to pass the Legislature this session.

The bill passed the Senate easilyThursday night but temporarily stalled in the House, which initially voted to send it back to a conference committee for a revision, but then reversed course and approved the bill 10 minutes short of 6 a.m.

Final passage, 28-11 in the Senate and 86-30 in the House, came after two lengthy rules fights that were ultimately decided by floor votes.

Opponents in both chambers challenged whether the provision, which had not passed either chamber this year, could be brought to the floor through a conference committee report under House and Senate rules.

Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, raised the rules challenge on the House floor. She also said the bills passed by the anti-abortion forces that dominate the Legislature will result in more abortions, not less, by denying funding to Planned Parenthood to provide birth control to poor women and shortening the period of time women have to decide whether to end a pregnancy that goes awry.

“We have done nothing to reduce abortion,” she said.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe and a leader of the anti-abortion faction in the House, sought to divorce House Bill 2075 from abortion and position it as protecting employers who offer insurance plans to their workers.

“This bill is crucial in terms of protecting the consciences of employers around the state who find abortion to be morally abhorrent and to make sure we take a clear stance in electing not to provide abortion coverage, something that the president and Congress, Democrat controlled at the time, gave the states a right to elect,” he said.

As tempers frayed toward the end of the end of the 18-hour legislative marathon, female legislators harshly criticized the fact that the bill contains no exceptions for medical emergencies, such as when a woman is raped or is carrying a twin that is dying in the womb and has to be removed for the health of the other fetus.

“There’s clearly a message here that women are dispensible, disposable second-class citizens and they’re getting pushed back further and further and further every time we talk about this issue,” said Rep. Anne Kuether, D-Topeka. “There’s a very righteous attitude for the pro-life movement and it’s very clear in this body.”

The bill does allow women to purchase separate "riders" to their insurance policies to cover abortions only.

But the National Women's Law Center said that’s not practical.

"Existing data shows that supplemental coverage for abortion is unworkable and does not provide a genuine option for coverage," the center wrote in a issue paper. "Obtaining supplemental coverage for a specific procedure is impractical and undermines the purpose of health insurance."

The bill actually appeared dead in the hours after midnight when Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, got the House to vote to send it back to a conference committee.

Peck, an abortion opponent, objected to unrelated provisions in the bill affecting group life insurance.

About five a.m., the measure was revived on a motion to reconsider the earlier decision. Peck was unable to convince his colleagues a second time that fixing the life-insurance provision outweighed passing the anti-abortion language.

In the Senate, Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, objected to the abortion insurance provision. She argued that it was improperly added in conference committee in violation of Senate rules, because it had not been approved by either chamber.

But Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, argued that the provision could be added because the Senate had passed other measures dealing with insurance.

Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, who was running the meeting, ruled the measure was out of order. But Masterson appealed to the full Senate and won that procedural vote 21-18, foreshadowing the bill's final passage.

The rules challenge and vote were later repeated in the House with roughly the same results.

The bill was the fourth abortion restricting measure approved this year. Both houses earlier passed:

— a ban on virtually all abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, based on a disputed medical theory that fetuses of that age feel pain from the procedure.

— tougher licensing, inspection and reporting requirements for clinics and hospitals that allow abortions, combined with restrictions on the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

–requirements that minor girls seeking an abortion obtain permission from both parents or a court ruling before the procedure can be performed.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle