Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the committee vote.
Health insurers could be prohibited from offering Texans plans covering abortions under a proposal by Republican state Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood that passed a Senate committee Monday.
Under Senate Bill 575, private health insurance plans and those offered through the federal Affordable Care Act’s marketplace could only provide coverage for abortions in cases of medical emergencies. Women seeking coverage for what Taylor calls “elective” abortions would be required to purchase supplemental health insurance plans.
“This bill is not a ban on elective abortions. In fact, this bill is all about choice,” Taylor told the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday as it considered his proposal.
The bill intends to keep premiums being paid to an insurance provider from underwriting abortion coverage, Taylor said. “Under this bill, you can choose to pay for abortions or you can choose not to pay for the abortions of others,” Taylor added.
Ten states now prohibit all health plans from covering abortion, and 15 prohibit abortion coverage on federal marketplace plans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Texas currently allows health plans to offer abortion coverage.
Under the federal reform law, states can set their own rules for abortion coverage on insurance plans sold through the federal marketplace. In states where abortion coverage is permitted on marketplace plans, the insurance providers must separate funds that go toward abortion coverage from money that consumers pay for other medical care.
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Democrat from Laredo, said she had heard concerns that requiring women to purchase supplemental plans could lead to high premium rates and questioned whether “the practical effect of this bill would make abortion uninsurable.”
Without insurance coverage for abortions, opponents of Taylor’s bill said they also worried women may seek cheap and unsafe abortion methods and providers.
“We believe every woman should be able to make the personal decision she thinks is best for her and her family and privately purchase the insurance plan that is best for her and her family,” said Ana Rodriguez DeFrates, state policy and advocacy director for the Texas Latina Advocacy Network.
She added that the measure does not provide exceptions for rape, incest and severe fetal abnormalities.
Lawmakers in the House are considering a similar proposal by state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, that would ban abortion coverage from federal marketplace health insurance plans. The House State Affairs Committee considered the measure earlier this month and has not voted on it.
Some anti-abortion advocates have said Farney’s measure doesn’t go far enough.
During the Senate hearing, supporters of Taylor’s measure told the committee that it would better protect Texans who oppose abortion from subsidizing the procedure for others by banning it in all health plans.
Elizabeth Graham, director of the anti-abortion Texas Right to Life, added that insurance is not necessary to pay for the procedure because abortion providers often offer payment plans to women seeking abortions.
“So no woman goes to a clinic without being able to pay for an abortion,” Graham said.
Taylor’s proposal is among several bills making their way through the Legislature that would further restrict abortion in the state two years after lawmakers passed one of the strictest abortion laws in the country. Texas’ abortion law, also known as House Bill 2, requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic. It also requires facilities that perform abortions to meet the same hospital-like standards as ambulatory surgical centers, including pipelines for anesthesia and larger hallway sizes.
The passage of HB 2 has led to the closure of dozens of clinics in the state and could leave Texas with fewer than 10 clinics — all in major metropolitan areas — if the abortion law holds up against an ongoing legal challenge.
This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.