House Will Take Up Abortion Insurance Coverage Ban

In a dramatic turn of events, the House Calendars Committee reversed course and sent a controversial bill prohibiting health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act's marketplace from covering abortions to the full chamber.

 Todd Wiseman / Callie Richmond

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

In a dramatic turn of events, the House Calendars Committee on Sunday night reversed course and sent a controversial bill prohibiting health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act's marketplace from covering abortions to the full chamber for a vote.

Earlier in the night, the committee voted not to place Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor on the lower chamber’s calendar for Tuesday — the last day a Senate bill can be passed by the House. After fireworks on the House floor instigated by a lawmaker who believed he had entered into an agreement to get the bill to the full chamber, the committee reconvened and reconsidered its vote. 

Under SB 575, women seeking coverage for what Taylor has called “elective” abortions would have been required to purchase supplemental health insurance plans. 

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On Saturday, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, had threatened to force a House vote to prohibit abortions on the basis of fetal abnormalities by filing an amendment to an innocuous agency review bill. But Stickland later withdrew the amendment, telling the Austin American-Statesman that he had agreed to pull it down in exchange of a vow from House leadership that they would move SB 575 forward.

The bill did make it out of the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. But when it got to Calendars, that committee voted it down, leading Stickland to go after Cook on the House floor. Stickland had to be separated from Cook, and House sergeants immediately ran over to prevent a lengthier tussle. 

Cook told reporters on Sunday night that he had done what he could to pass the bill out of the State Affairs Committee and wasn't responsible for its fate in the Calendars Committee. Three Republicans on Calendars — Sarah Davis of West University Place, Patricia Harless of Spring and Debbie Riddle of Tomball — joined four Democrats to vote against bringing the bill to the floor for a vote. 

"My commitment was to get the bill out [of State Affairs], to get it to Calendars," Cook said. "I did everything I could do. What I can’t do is interfere with other members’ free will to vote their conscience. Everybody should be able to do that. And women sent a clear message that they weren’t comfortable with this legislation, probably weren’t comfortable with us men telling them what to do. And I respect that.”

But after the House recessed for the evening, the Calendars Committee reconvened, and Riddle made a motion to reconsider the vote. The vote to move the bill to the full House was 8-0, with seven members absent. The absent members included all of the committee's Democrats, Harless and Davis. 

It's unclear why Riddle, a staunch social conservative, initially voted against the measure — and why she changed her mind. She could not immediately be reached for comment. 

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