Texas bill restricting insurance coverage for abortions nears approval

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas bill that would restrict insurance coverage for abortions was approved by the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday, a move critics called cruel and damaging to women’s health.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S flag and the Texas State flag fly over the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

The House measure would ban insurance coverage for abortions and require women who wanted coverage to purchase a supplemental plan for an abortion, the latest effort by the most-populous Republican-controlled state to place restrictions on the procedure.

If enacted, the bill would take effect on Dec. 1 and make Texas the 11th state to restrict abortion coverage in private insurance plans written in the state.

The Republican-dominated Senate has passed a similar bill, and Republican Governor Greg Abbott has shown support for the measures.

The bill’s backers say it would protect abortion opponents from subsidizing the procedure. A Democratic critic decried it as forcing people to buy “rape insurance.”

“It’s a question of economic freedom and freedom in general,” Republican Representative John Smithee, the bill’s sponsor, said in House debate on Tuesday ahead of the bill receiving preliminary approval.

The Republican sponsor of the Senate bill, Brandon Creighton, has told local media supplemental coverage would cost $12 to $80 a year

House Bill 214, which passed mostly on a party-line vote, does not offer exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Abortion rights groups are likely fight the measure in court if enacted.

“Women and parents will be faced with the horrific decision of having to purchase ‘rape insurance’ to cover them if they are victimized,” Democratic Representative Chris Turner said in a statement. “This is not only ridiculous, but it is cruel.”

Idaho, Kansas and Oklahoma are among the 10 other states that make abortion coverage a supplement on private plans. There are 25 states with restrictions on abortion coverage in plans set up by state exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act under former Democratic President Barack Obama, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks such legislation.

“It is surprising that Texas has not done this before,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager for Guttmacher.

The insurance measure is one of several bills concerning abortion before Texas lawmakers in a special session that runs through next week.

The Senate has already approved bills that include requiring physicians to improve notification of complications that occur during abortions and another that prohibits local governments from having contracts with abortion providers and their affiliates.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Shumaker