As state legislatures across the country debate and pass measures designed to roll back women's abortion rights, lawmakers in Washington state have introduced a rare, groundbreaking reproductive rights bill that would require every insurance policy in the state that covers maternity care to also cover abortions.
Washington already has 14 insurance coverage mandates on the books, including contraception, mammograms, and prostate cancer screenings. It also uses its own Medicaid funding to subsidize abortion care for low-income women. Supporters of the new bill, called the Reproductive Parity Act, said it won't change much in the state, since it is already very friendly to women's reproductive rights, but it will protect women from any new barriers to abortion that would be imposed by the Affordable Care Act.
"This bill is about ensuring that all Washington women have health insurance coverage that includes the full range of reproductive health care options, including abortion," said Rep. Eileen Cody (D), who sponsored the bill. "As we implement the federal health care reform law, we need to ensure that we have no erosion of our existing laws in Washington that protect women's reproductive rights."
After his health insurance bill passed, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to ensure that no federal funds could be used for abortion services under the new state health insurance exchanges. The Reproductive Parity Act would be the first law in the nation to ensure that the language of the ACA's abortion provisions would not affect any woman's abortion coverage in Washington.
Abortion is already becoming a wedge issue in Washington's highly competitive gubernatorial race. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who is running for governor and has a strong pro-choice record in Congress, immediately pledged his support for the bill. Republican candidate Rob McKenna, who currently serves as the state's Attorney General, has avoided taking a stance on the issue.
"Regarding the proposed parity act, I look forward to reading the bill when it becomes available," he said Wednesday during a Facebook Q&A.
A Washington blogger points out that the text of the bill was already available for McKenna to read.
McKenna's dodge could help him win over anti-abortion advocates in the state, who strongly oppose the proposed mandate.
"To mandate that we violate our conscience is tyranny," Dan Kennedy, CEO of Human Life of Washington, told the Seattle Times last week. "There's no subtle or soft way to put the truth."