February 4, 2011

Little Rock - The ACLU and other advocates of reproductive freedom celebrated the failure of SB113 at an Arkansas Legislative Committee yesterday, a bill that would prohibit plans offered in the state insurance exchange from including coverage for abortion, except where the mother's life is in danger.  The sponsor and its backers claim the bill is needed to ensure that Arkansas taxpayer dollars aren't used for abortions, but the ACLU says that taxpayer money is not at issue.
"This bill does not affect taxpayer dollars or "state funding" in any way.  The federal law already prohibits the use of federal funding paying for insurance coverage of abortions within the exchange," said Rita Sklar, ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director. "In fact, the ACA -- the federal health care reform law -- has iron clad segregation-of-funds requirements that are designed to ensure that not one single tax dollar can go for abortion coverage. If not for that stringent language, called the ‘Nelson amendment,' several congressmen who are completely opposed to abortion would not have voted for the bill.

"What SB 113 would have done," said Sklar, "was to restrict what someone's personal money could be spent on inside the exchange, namely coverage of abortions for victims of rape or incest or for women with serious health conditions."

Sklar described the healthcare act's policy regarding federal dollars and abortion coverage:

"Any insurance company selling a policy that covers abortion in the exchange must comply with numerous requirements, mainly:

1) They must calculate the cost of abortion coverage;

2) They must collect two separate premium payments, one for the abortion coverage and one for everything else (SB 113 unnecessarily repeats this language since it's already in the federal bill);

3) They must place the 2 separate premium payments from individuals getting subsidies into separate "allocation accounts";

4) The account with the abortion premium payments cannot include a single tax dollar; and

5) The company cannot use the money in the allocation account set aside to cover abortion for any purpose other than to cover abortion."

The federal bill confuses many people, said Sklar. "The only people who can participate in the exchange are people who fall between 134% and 400% of the poverty line (those below 134% are covered by medicaid), the self-insured or those not covered by their employers, and small businesses. And the federal money that is used to subsidize the poor but not Medicaid-eligible is tightly controlled so as not to pay for abortion insurance coverage."

"The bill is unnecessary to "protect taxpayer dollars", and only harms women by not allowing them to receive health benefits to terminate a pregnancy if they have been raped or are a victim of incest, or if their health condition requires it."  Sklar named conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heart failure as reasons a woman might terminate a wanted pregnancy to preserve her health.

A member of the committee introduced an amendment that would have lifted the ban from insurance coverage for abortions performed in cases of rape and incest and for those performed on women in a hospital.  The amendment passed and the sponsor withdrew the bill and asked that it be tabled.  The bill can be brought back up with a majority of those present in the meeting.

To watch the Public Health Committee debate the bill meeting, please follow the link:


Visit the ACLU of Arkansas website at http://www.acluarkansas.org/ for information on other bills the ACLU is following.