The state House voted Monday to deny coverage for women for elective abortions if they get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
The 33-24 vote came after House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, said 90 percent of individuals who obtain such coverage are getting their premiums subsidized. He said SB 1318 ensures that public funds are not used to subsidize the procedure.
Rep. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson, said that ignores the fact that the abortion coverage comes only with a separate “rider” – and a separate premium. Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, brushed that argument aside.
“We all know how accounting gimmicks work,” he said. “We have used them down here for a long time,” referring to various maneuvers to declare the state’s budget “balanced” by moving money around and even delaying payment of bills due into a new fiscal year.
Mesnard said that’s what’s going on here.
“Charging someone a dollar (a month) with a wink and a nod and saying, ‘Well, it’s not costing the taxpayer any money’ is hardly serious,” he said.
Backers of the legislation said the ban on policies excluding abortion coverage is not absolute. It does permit policies to include insurance in cases of rape and incest.
“That is a cruel joke,” responded Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who earlier this month disclosed to colleagues during a committee hearing on this legislation that, as a child, she had been the victim of both by a family member.
“Imagine, your daughter, God-forbid, someone you love is pregnant as the result of a rape,” Steele said. She said it was hard enough for her to talk about it even though the event occurred decades ago.
“But for this person, it would be immediate,” Steele said.
“They would need to their insurance company to prove that they could apply for the exemption,” she continued. “How humiliating.”
But Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Scottsdale, said Steele’s objections to the provision are irrelevant.
“This bill will prevent taxpayer money going to pay for abortions,” she said. And Townsend said the restrictions in this measure – and the exemptions for rape and incest – are the same that have been in federal law since the 1970s and are the same as already exist in the state’s Medicaid program.
“This isn’t something we came up with to humiliate anyone,” Townsend said.
The legislation also contains a separate provision to require doctors to tell women their medication abortions may be reversible, even absent any scientific studies to show that’s possible.
That is based on arguments that 80 women nationwide who have had second thoughts have been able to halt their abortions with large doses of the hormone progesterone, even after taking RU-486 which induces an abortion.
“These women deserve the truth to know whether or not you can reverse an RU-486 abortion,” said Townsend. And she said said she knows of no side effects to the woman or the baby if the abortion can be halted.
But Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, called the practice “fringe medicine,” saying there are no studies showing the procedure, which doctors would be required to mention to women 24 hours before an abortion, actually works. And Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said the label for progesterone, the hormone that would be used to halt a medication abortion, warns that there are possible birth defects when a pregnant woman takes high doses.
Mesnard, however, said all that is irrelevant to the question of a woman’s right to know her options.
“This does not say it will work,” said Mesnard of the reversal.
“It does not say you should do it,” he continued. “I don’t see any harm in saying it might be possible.”
That provision, however, was enough to cause Rep. John Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, to vote against the entire measure.
Ackerley said he is opposed to abortion and does not want public dollars being used for the procedure. “I made a promise to my constituents that even though I was not shy about it, I was pro life,” he said. But Ackerley said he made a promise.
“I told them I would not vote for a bill that was intended or inadvertently designed to cause litigation,” he said. And Ackerley said he expects this new provision to be challenged in court.
Townsend did not dispute that a lawsuit is possible. But that did not concern her.
“The fact that no matter how much it costs in court, that the protection of life, you cannot put a price tag on it,” she said.
The measure now goes back to the Senate which previously approved SB 1318 but without the provision about telling women about the option for reversal.