RICHMOND, Va. - There's some controversy over a proposal to stop Virginians from getting health insurance that covers abortion. Republican governor Bob McDonnell has put forth an amendment that would not allow insurance policies that cover abortions to be purchased through the federally run health care exchange that will serve Virginia.
The exchange will be a marketplace where the middle class and underinsured can buy low-cost health coverage. The amendment would also prohibit insurers within the exchange from writing separate, optional riders covering abortion.
The amendment, which reproductive rights organizations warned for weeks was imminent, would also prohibit insurers within the exchange from writing separate, optional riders covering abortion.
The only coverage exceptions would be for rape, incest or to protect the life of a pregnant woman.
Unless opponents can muster at least 51 votes in the 100-member, Republican-ruled House of Delegates and 21 votes in the state Senate, the sweeping abortion restriction will become law. That's highly unlikely because while Democrats and Republicans each hold 20 seats in the Senate, Republicans control more than two-thirds of the House seats.
McDonnell, speaking Tuesday morning on his monthly call-in program on Washington's WTOP Radio, defended his amendment as nothing more than a restatement not only of existing federal law - the Hyde Amendment - that prohibits use of public funds for abortion, but also of existing state law.
The socially conservative governor copied and pasted a provision from a 2011 state law that prohibits a state-run and state-funded health care exchange from offering policies that cover abortion services.
But Virginia chose to forego setting up its own exchange, leaving it to the federal government to organize and operate Virginia's exchange. People and households who don't have private or employer-sponsored health insurance coverage will be able to choose among policies and providers.
"Now we have the same language apply to a federal exchange," he said.
Victoria Cobb of the conservative advocacy group Family Foundation defended McDonnell, saying his amendment complies with the federal Hyde Amendment and protects taxpayers "from being forced to subsidize elective abortion through these exchanges."
Caroline O'Shea of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia said McDonnell's decision would not only interfere with a woman's ability to make decisions regarding her health and pregnancy with her doctor, it would interfere with individuals' ability to buy insurance coverage with their own money.
"This amendment denies private insurance companies the ability to supply, and individuals the right to demand, comprehensive health care," added Cianti Stewart-Reid, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.