Public employees will no longer be able to get insurance that covers most abortions under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a House panel.
Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, told members of the House Committee on Health and Human Services that state law already prohibits the use of public dollars to terminate pregnancies except to save the life of the mother.
But Gray said there appears to be a loophole. And that, she said, is allowing cities and counties to offer health insurance policies that cover abortion — policies paid for, at least in part, with taxpayer dollars.
The measure is being backed by Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy. She said while courts have upheld the right of women to an abortion, they also have said there is no right to demand public funding.
SB 1305, which already has been approved by the Senate, would expand the existing law to say that no government funds can be used, directly or indirectly, to pay for a health insurance policy for workers which includes abortion as a covered service. The only exceptions would be to save a woman’s life or when an abortion is necessary to “avert substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
That does not include coverage for abortions in case of rape and incest. Gray said those situations can be addressed with prescriptions for the “morning-after pill,” a high dose of hormones that can prevent ovulation or keep a fertilized egg from implanting.
Her legislation, though, would preclude coverage for that pill, too. But Gray said that should not keep any woman from getting the care she needs, saying she simply would have to pay the $300 cost of getting the pill out of her own pocket.
East Valley cities differ significantly in how they handle abortion restrictions in the employee policies they help pay for.
Both Chandler and Gilbert have plans that do not exclude abortions.
Gilbert’s plan does, however, require prior authorization and is approved on a case-by-case basis, town spokeswoman Beth Lucas said.
In Queen Creek, an abortion is only covered if it is deemed “medically necessary” by a physician, town spokeswoman Marnie Schubert said. The town has 151 employees.
The policy for Mesa employees does not offer any coverage for an elective abortion.
“The only abortion coverage available, according to the plan, would be in the event of any complications,” following an abortion, said Jody Topping, Mesa benefits administrator.
An abortion due to rape or incest would still be considered voluntary, Topping said. Mesa has 3,169 employees enrolled in the plan currently.
Tempe’s plan is somewhat similar to Mesa’s, said city spokeswoman Nikki Ripley.
Elective abortions are excluded, but, like the Mesa plan, if there are complications following an abortion they are treatable under the city’s plan.
Abortions are allowed “if the mother’s life is in danger” or if there is a case of rape or incest, Ripley said.
The legislation annoyed Rep. Phil Lopes, D-Tucson, who said the question of the coverage cities and counties offer their workers is none of the Legislature’s business.
“Just because we can abuse or overrule local government doesn’t mean we should,” he said.
“This is an effort simply to tell local elected officials that somehow we know better than they do about such matters as this,” Lopes continued. “We should not be telling cities and towns what they can include in their insurance benefit plans.”
But Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, defended the move.
“The overwhelming number of citizens in our state do not approve paying for abortion,” she said.
Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, took a separate shot at the Center for Arizona Policy.
He said the organization’s mission statement says it advocates for “Christian values from the Bible.”
But Ableser said CAP spends much of its time on issues like restricting access to abortion while doing nothing to address poverty. And he said the legislation represents “extreme radical ideology.”
Barto, who chairs the House panel, chastised Ableser for “denigrating” the organization.
The 5-3 vote by the committee sends the measure to the full House.
Tribune writer Michelle Reese contributed to this report