Saturday, January 29, 2011

Arkansas Senate votes to exclude abortion coverage from Obamacare exchanges

by Rebecca Millette

LITTLE ROCK, AR, January 28, 2011 ( – The Arkansas Senate approved a bill yesterday in a 27-8 vote that will ensure no taxpayer dollars go to funding abortions in the state. 

Senate Bill 113, sponsored by Republican Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, maintains that “Health insurance exchange coverage of abortions in the state health insurance exchange [is] prohibited.” It will now go to the state House for a vote.

Under the new national health reform law, individual states are responsible for their own health exchanges, which will take effect in 2014, allowing states to opt-out of insurance coverage for abortion.

Senate Bill 113 contains an exception in the case of the mother’s life being in danger. Unlike some other similar state bills, it includes no exception for cases of rape and incest.

Women can purchase coverage for abortion outside the state health insurance, but such optional supplemental abortion coverage would be at the complete cost of the individual. 

“We just feel that the policy that we are putting forth, this opt-out of abortion, goes along with how Arkansans feel,” said Sen. Bledsoe, according to CNBC.  Citing the federal health care law, she said, “We’re not trying to do anything more than what we have been given the right to do.”

“This is about tax dollars and Arkansans have said overwhelmingly we don’t want to spend tax dollars on abortions,” Bledsoe told the Senate.

Republican Sen. Jason Rapert supported Bledsoe. “I think we’re here to protect and serve the interests of our constituents and not force their dollar to be utilized for something they don’t agree with,” he said.

Opposition leader Democrat Sen. Joyce Elliott said the bill needed amendments to include exceptions in the cases of rape and incest.

“Rape is nothing more than an assault,” said Elliott, according to Arkansas News. “Suppose you are a man and you are in the exchange, you get mugged and beaten, bloodied, that is an assault on you. You are going to be covered. But [an abortion is not covered] if it’s an assault on a woman who is part of the exchange, and she’s raped and she gets pregnant.”

Bledsoe said she decided to exclude exceptions for rape and incest from the bill because they were not included in the Arkansas Constitution Amendment 68 on abortion, approved by votes in 1989, to ban public funding for abortions in Arkansas.  Amendment 68 states, “No public funds will be used to pay for any abortion, except to save the mother’s life.”

Governor Mike Beebe said he would prefer that women who are pregnant as a result of rape and incest should be included in the bill.  However, his spokesman told Arkansas News Beebe would support whatever the Legislature approves.

Should the Arkansas House pass the bill, Arkansas will join Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisianna, in approving such legislation.  Several other states are expected to consider legislation in their upcoming legislative sessions.

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