AP News

Abortion debate flares up in Pa. Senate committee


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The latest stop for a Republican-penned bill to limit insurance coverage of abortions sparked an angry debate Tuesday among senators, reviving arguments over President Barack Obama's health care law and the case of a Philadelphia abortion doctor accused of killing a patient and four babies.

The bill passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee after barbed exchanges that made for the most heated committee meeting in memory, several senators said.

Currently, health insurance policies generally cover elective abortion, but the state has a longstanding policy against taxpayer-funded abortions.

The proposed legislation would bar coverage of abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger, under health insurance policies offered in the federally run insurance marketplaces that open Jan. 1. As a result, Pennsylvania residents using their own money would be unable to buy health coverage that includes abortion services through the Affordable Care Act's marketplace, known as an exchange.

"Anyway you look at it, it's taxpayers dollars," Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman Don White, R-Indiana, who opposes abortion rights, said after the meeting. "I'm sorry I have to insult people with the facts in this case."

Opponents call the bill an expansion of restrictions on abortion rights. They say the bill is both unnecessary and potentially damaging to the treatment of women who develop pregnancy-related health problems that may not immediately threaten their lives. The insurance exchange may be taxpayer-funded, but many policies in it will be bought with private money, they said.

"This became a pro-life, pro-choice issue," said Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton. "Truly these are the people who want to go back and overturn Roe v. Wade."

The bill passed, with support from eight of nine Republicans and only one of five Democrats. Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Patricia Vance, R-Cumberland, crossed party lines. The measure won House approval last month.

When it is taken up by the Senate, Boscola and other opponents said, they plan to bring up amendments and extend the fight. Gov. Tom Corbett, who also opposes abortion rights, favors the legislation.

A Corbett administration spokeswoman said Tuesday that the bill would not place any greater restrictions on access than already exists under Pennsylvania and federal law.

Twenty other states, including Florida and Ohio, restrict abortion coverage in insurance plans that will be offered through the exchanges, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks restrictions on abortion.

The ongoing, high-profile trial of Philadelphia abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell was raised by Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair. He argued that the government could not be trusted to properly regulate abortion clinics, and it cannot be trusted to ensure that only private dollars are used to purchase abortion coverage through the exchanges.

That prompted an angry response from the bill's opponents, who argued that the Gosnell case is unrelated and that the state's response to it — toughening restrictions on abortion clinics — was hijacked by abortion rights opponents.


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