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The Associated Press March 22, 2010, 5:25PM ET

Mo. Senate panel backs abortion restrictions

A Missouri Senate panel responded quickly Monday to the passage of a federal health care overhaul by voting to expand a state ban on abortion coverage for basic health insurance policies.

Federal legislation passed Sunday night would let people buy health insurance through new state-based purchasing pools called exchanges. The federal bill says states can choose to exclude abortion coverage in plans offered through the new insurance exchanges.

Missouri is moving quickly to do so.

The state Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee voted 5-1 Monday for legislation would ban any health insurance exchange from offering policies covering elective abortions -- even if women are willing to pay an extra premium for the coverage. The legislation now goes to the Missouri Senate.

If also passed by the House and signed by the governor, the Missouri legislation would impose an even stricter standard on government-administered insurance exchanges than already exists in the private marketplace.

Missouri is one of five states that currently prohibit abortion coverage in basic policies, instead requiring the payment of an additional premium. The other states are Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota and Oklahoma.

Missouri's abortion-insurance law was enacted in 1983 and upheld by a federal appeals court in 1992.

In addition to allowing states to ban abortion coverage in health insurance exchanges, the federal bill attempts to separate taxpayer funds from private premiums that would pay for abortion coverage. No health plans would be required to offer coverage for abortion. But if they do, beneficiaries would have to pay for it separately, and those funds would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money.

But Republican Sen. Scott Rupp, of Wentzville, said he is concerned the federal health care legislation could result in taxpayer-funded abortions.

"That is the antithesis of what Missouri law is, and we need to enact this opt-out provision so that we continue the long-standing tradition in Missouri that we do not use public funds to subsidize abortion coverage," Rupp said while explaining his legislation to the committee he leads.

Rupp's legislation drew support Tuesday from several anti-abortion groups and opposition from Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

Planned Parenthood lobbyist Michelle Trupiano said it already is rare for Missouri women to be able to purchase an insurance policy addition for abortion coverage. So they often pay the full cost of an abortion, which she said is about $500 for a first-semester pregnancy.

For people covered through new health insurance exchanges, the Missouri legislation "leaves those particular women with no options for abortion coverage," Trupiano said.

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