AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that prohibits private insurers from providing coverage for abortions, rejecting amendments that would make exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities — the bill’s author said on the floor: “Rape very seldom results in a pregnancy.”
House Bill 214 would prohibit private and state-offered health insurance plans — and insurance plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act — from providing general coverage for abortions, except in medical emergencies when a woman’s life is in danger.
The bill requires women who want coverage for abortion to purchase supplemental health insurance.
The legislation does not require insurers to offer such supplemental coverage, meaning that women could be forced to pay out of pocket for the procedure that can cost the equivalent of a month’s rent.
According to Jane’s Due Process, a Texas nonprofit that helps pregnant teens, the average cost of an abortion in the state is around $400 in the first trimester and $850 in the second trimester.
Opponents of HB 214 call it another attempt by Republican lawmakers to restrict women’s access to abortion, part of a string of measures passed in Texas in recent years.
During House debate Tuesday, the bill’s author, Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, said the bill wasn’t about whether abortions should be available or legal, but about “who is going to be forced to pay for them.”
Smithee said that people who oppose abortion for religious, moral or philosophical reasons should not be required to pay into a pool for insurance coverage that would subsidize the procedure.
He said 25 other states already limit abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and 10 prohibit private plans from providing general abortion coverage.
“It’s a question of economic freedom and freedom in general,” Smithee said.
But Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, said that access to health care is an “essential right” for all Texans, and that Smithee’s bill would hurt women most in need by making insurance more expensive and out of reach.
“In Texas, women earn less, are paid unequally and lack childcare or paid family leave laws,” Minjarez said. “That’s why the economic impact of having a child is the number one factor women consider when making this incredibly difficult and personal decision.”
Minjarez said many low-income women delay or forego paying utility bills or rent, or won’t buy food for themselves or their families in order to be able to pay for an abortion.
“As with the countless other abortion restrictions enacted every time this legislature meets, this bill hurts working women the most, limiting their economic freedom and failing to support private medical decisions,” Minjarez said.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, offered an amendment that would have exempted pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, but Smithee said it was against his beliefs to terminate a pregnancy even in those circumstances and added: “Rape very seldom results in a pregnancy.”
“When you have a rape that results in a pregnancy you have three parties: You have the father, the mother and then you have the little baby,” Smithee said. “And the father is the only guilty one in the bunch … yet we’re discussing taking the life of the innocent little baby because of something the baby had nothing to do with.
“So try to be tolerant, try to be understanding of our belief on that issue and understand that in good conscious we have a problem with paying for abortions that terminate a life under those circumstances.”
Smithee said he also had an economic objection to being required to pay for something he would never use.
Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said there are other procedures covered by general insurance plans, such as hysterectomies and breast exams, that Smithee would never use.
“Can you have a hysterectomy?” Wu asked.
“Medically, I don’t know,” Smithee said.
Turner’s amendment, and several other amendments offered by House Democrats, failed.
The House passed HB 214 by 95 to 51.
There are 10 days left in the Texas Legislature’s 30-day special session, but the bill has a good chance of reaching Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, as the state Senate passed a nearly identical measure, SB 8, on July 26.
The measure is one of Abbott’s 20 agenda items for the special session.