Missouri Senate committee advances bill to ban abortion coverage

Monday, March 22, 2010 | 6:37 p.m. CDT; updated 10:47 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 22, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Just one day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its landmark health care legislation after negotiations with anti-abortion Democrats, Missouri senators on Monday pushed a bill through committee that would impose additional restrictions on abortion coverage in health insurance.

In a rare move, members of the Insurance Committee voted immediately after testimony to advance a bill that would prevent consumers from purchasing optional insurance that would cover abortions. Current Missouri law restricts abortion insurance coverage to optional riders, or a health insurance plan to which someone can opt in.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said the issue became even more relevant with the passage of federal health care legislation Sunday. In order to win over anti-abortion Democrats, President Barack Obama agreed to issue an executive order providing that no funds from the federal bill could be used to pay for abortions.

Rupp said that agreement is not forceful enough.

"The executive order that was supposed to fix this is not worth the paper it's printed on," Rupp said. "The Supreme Court has said that executive order cannot trump law, and the law says that it has to be covered. States have to enact this unless they do want to subsidize abortion."

Rupp said his bill would allow for the state to counter the federal legislation that allows insurance to cover abortions.

"We need to enact this opt-out provision to continue the longstanding tradition in Missouri that we do not use public funds to subsidize abortion coverages," he said.

The lone vote in opposition to the bill was cast by Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis County. Days said she voted against the bill in keeping with her support of abortion-rights policies.

"I do think women have the right to choose," Days said. "The erosion of that is not right." 

Missouri is one of only five states to restrict abortion coverage to optional riders, and one of four to make an exception in coverage only for life endangerment, according to Michelle Trupiano, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood.

Trupiano said further restrictions on abortion insurance coverage would make it nearly impossible for women of lower socio-economic statuses to afford abortion procedures.

"This (legislation) is leaving women who are already in very difficult circumstances without any options," Trupiano said. "The bottom line is that women and their families should be making these decisions, not the government."

Trupiano said a basic first-trimester abortion typically costs between $400 and $600, while an abortion with complications can cost thousands of dollars. Trupiano did not know whether optional insurance for abortions resulted in cost savings for participants or typically exceeded abortion costs.

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