After an unsuccessful attempt to exclude cases of rape and incest from a measure banning health plans from covering abortions, the bill cleared the Texas Senate on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 575 by Republican state Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood would only allow private health insurance plans and those offered through the federal Affordable Care Act’s marketplace to cover abortion in cases of medical emergencies. Women seeking the procedure in other circumstances — what Taylor calls "elective" abortions — would be required to purchase a supplemental insurance plan if they wanted coverage.
The bill got final approval in the upper chamber on a 21-10 vote — but not before eliciting a heated debate over an amendment by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, that would have allowed insurance providers to pay for the abortions of victims of rape and incest.
“We agreed on the floor yesterday that if I prepared an amendment that he would accept it, and before you is the amendment,” Garcia said, referencing a floor debate on Tuesday during which Taylor said he would consider an amendment to include the exception.
Taylor ultimately voted against the amendment, telling The Texas Tribune he had to “switch gears” on it because it would have cost him some of his colleagues’ votes. “I would’ve lost the bill,” Taylor said.
During debate over Garcia's amendment, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, attempted to modify it by requiring that victims of rape and incest file reports with law enforcement in order to have their abortions covered by insurance plans.
“I believe that without these changes the amendment being considered is overly broad and ambiguous,” Campbell said. “I’m concerned that we may be unintentionally providing cover for perpetrators of crime.”
Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin questioned Campbell on the proposed reporting requirement, suggesting it would impose a burden on women who are already in vulnerable situations.
“I think what we ought to do is to trust women who might find themselves in this situation to make the decisions that are in their best interest,” Watson said. “Senator, if you put this into this amendment, what you would be doing is you would be creating the situation where women who are already victims would be further victimized.”
Campbell ultimately withdrew her proposed changes but continued to question the amendment, saying that Garcia's language was “too broad” and did little to stop criminals.
Garcia said the language in her amendment was straight out of the Texas Health and Safety Code and that it was meant to recognize that 91 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, oftentimes out of fear.
“I think we’re both definitely on the same page about compassion for women and their protection,” Campbell said.
“We need to trust women and we need to respect their judgment and not second-guess them,” Garcia replied.
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.
During an exchange on the bill on Tuesday, Taylor told Garcia he would be "happy to consider an amendment if you want to offer something like that.”
“And would you accept it?” Garcia asked.
"Yes," Taylor responded. "I think I’d look at that.”
But on Wednesday, Taylor asked lawmakers to table Garcia’s amendment, which was then voted down on a 19-12 vote.
The bill is headed to the Texas House, where lawmakers are considering a similar proposal by state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, that would ban abortion coverage from plans offered through the federal marketplace.