By Peter J. Smith
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 14, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - With Tennessee having become the first state to opt-out of the abortion funding mandate in the national health care reform, several more states are poised to follow suit this year, with many more to follow when their legislatures again reconvene.
Americans United for Life (AUL), a pro-life public-interest law and policy organization in the United States, developed draft legislation for states to exploit a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Sec. 1303), which explicitly allows the state-run health insurance exchanges to prohibit public funds from subsidizing health insurance companies that offer co-pays for abortion.
At least five states this year have taken advantage of the opt-out provision to craft and submit bills for their legislatures, and AUL says that is remarkable given that it has come very late in the legislative session for the states.
"I view our progress as very good, and we are very hopeful of seeing several states enact this [legislation] this year, and having a lot of states pass it next year," Daniel McConchie, Vice President of Government Affairs for Americans United for Life, told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN).
When LSN first reported that AUL had developed and announced this draft legislation, representatives from at least 14 states had expressed interest and wanted to work to develop bills for their own legislatures. McConchie revealed that number has risen to about 25 states, where he has been working with state groups and lawmakers on the issue. He added AUL has also heard from individuals in all 50 states asking how they can lobby their lawmakers to take a look at the draft bill.
Tennessee is the first state that has passed a law banning insurance companies providing abortion coverage from participating in the health exchange, where they could benefit from public subsidies. Pro-life advocates have charged such a ban is necessary, because while federal funds under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act cannot directly pay for abortions, they end up leading to an expansion of abortion by a simple accounting trick. The federal subsidies help insurance companies maintain their bottom line and profits, while they just dip into private funds to pay for abortions.
In addition to the accounting trick, many individuals will be enrolled in abortion-covering insurance plans whether they support abortion or not, because only one plan in a state exchange has to be abortion-free, and since most individuals get their health insurance through their employers, they may end up with a health plan that covers abortions. Whether they like it or not, individuals enrolled in these plans will also have to pay at least one dollar into a fund that will go to subsidize abortions.
McConchie said there are different levels of interest in the states, but lawmakers in Mississippi have demonstrated the most enthusiasm. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is personally working with AUL to get legislation enacted in Mississippi's State House before the legislature concludes its business.
"They are actually suspending the rules of the Senate, which don't allow this kind of legislation," said McConchie. At the moment, the Mississippi Senate is in an extended session to resolve the budget. Nevertheless, "They are suspending the rules when they come back next week to allow this bill to be heard anyway."
Had Congress passed the health-care reform bill back in January, more states would be taking action because their legislatures would still be in session. But as McConchie pointed out, "Most states, they are only in two or three months out of the year."
Lawmakers from Utah, Virginia, Indiana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Texas are making preparations to bring such a bill before their respective legislatures, but since their sessions have already ended, they won't be able to take action until 2011.
Technically they have some leeway in time before they have to act. The state health-insurance exchanges do not go into effect until 2014.
In addition to Tennessee and Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma are considering similar legislation. A bill under consideration in Kansas takes the AUL legislation one step further, and would actually prohibit insurance coverage of abortion in all health plans, regardless of whether or not they are part of the exchange plans.
McConchie said Georgia may also possibly see some legislation offered, although they are very close to the end of its session. At the same time, he said they have to work with the fact that different State Houses also have different rules for what types of bills can and cannot be brought up toward the end of their sessions.
"It is not as if all 50 states could do something if they wanted to this year," said McConchie, pointing out that some states do not have sessions this year, such as North Dakota, Montana, Texas, and Oregon.
However he said, "For the percentage of states that can currently do something, that is significant."
McConchie said that AUL is very confident that more pro-life victories in ridding their states of the health care law's abortion mandate are just over the horizon.
"We suspect there are going to be significant prolife gains in the state legislatures - in part because of the mood in the country - and if that is the case it is going to open up more states to consider not only this, but additional prolife legislation," he said.
See related coverage by LifeSiteNew.com:
Tennessee House Strikes Blow to ObamaCare Abortion Coverage
States Consider Legislative Plan to Opt-Out of ObamaCare's Abortion Mandate