- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 11, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Republicans in a House committee Wednesday voted to bar women in Arizona from buying any health insurance policies that include abortion coverage through the federal marketplace.

The proposal passed through the Federalism and States’ Rights Committee on a 5-3 vote along party lines on Wednesday. Senate Bill 1318 now moves to now moves to the House for action pending a routine constitutional review.

The House committee held a contentious debate that devolved into indictments on the nature of the legislation.

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, called the bill extremist, and he asked why it was being heard in the committee instead of the House health committee. “It boggles my imagination why the Federalism and State Rights’ Committee is hearing abortion-rights legislation,” he said.

After trading barbs with Wheeler, Committee Chair Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, briefly recessed the committee, recognized the bill as an emotional issue and requested decorum before continuing.

Supporters said the bill ensures tax dollars don’t support abortions. Many people who buy insurance policies on the exchange receive government premium subsidies.

The Affordable Care Act prevents those subsidies from paying for abortion coverage directly. It requires insurers to create separate accounts for premiums to ensure federal subsidies aren’t paying for abortion.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said a report by the Government Accountability Organization from September found that more than 40 Arizona plans include abortion coverage and that taxpayers’ dollars could be used to fund those plans. “Taxpayers abhor their money paying for elective abortions, so it’s critical that we rectify the situation,” Barto said.

Senate Bill 1318 is backed by the powerful lobbying group the Center for Arizona Policy, and its president, Cathi Herrod, who testified during committee that the bill would only affect people who buy health insurance through the exchange. “Nothing in this bill prevents an individual from obtaining private insurance coverage that would afford elective abortion coverage,” Herrod said.

Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, said that undermines the point of the exchange. “If you are not purchasing on the exchange, you are going out into the open market. That is very expensive as an individual and puts insurance out of reach for many people,” Nash said.

A U.S. Health and Human Services Department report released Tuesday found 75 percent of the nearly 206,000 people in the state who signed up for marketplace plans get subsidies. But even those that don’t would be precluded from buying optional abortion coverage under Barto’s proposal.

Opponents pointed out that the bill bars residents who use their own money to pay for a health insurance policies on the exchange from buying optional abortion coverage, said Bryan Howard, president at Planned Parenthood Arizona. “It applies to everyone, including women and families who are using their own funds,” Howard said.

The Federalism and States’ Rights Committee also approved an amendment that would require abortion providers to inform clients that it may be possible to reverse the effects of an abortion medication if the woman changes her mind.

Howard said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t issued an opinion on the effectiveness of abortion medication reversals. “We are writing an assertion that is not medically based into state law,” he said.

Supporters of the amendment said it’s possible for women to reverse abortion medication using progesterone, a female hormone. There is little to no medical evidence to support their theory, however.

Dr. Allan Sawyer, chairman of the bioethics committee at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, testified that he recently reversed a medicine abortion at 10 weeks, though he acknowledged the procedure is not widely known. “This ability to reverse was not even known until recently,” he said.

Sawyer said that women should know they have a choice.

The bill has already passed through the Senate, which adopted a Republican amendment to exclude cases of rape and incest from the bill banning coverage. The bill also includes an exception for women whose lives are endangered by the pregnancy.

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