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By James Heffernan - email@example.com
Virginians who purchase health insurance through a future "exchange" with the federal government would be denied coverage for abortions under legislation introduced in Richmond.
The exchanges, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress last year, are open for business beginning in 2014. They are designed to allow individuals and small businesses who can't afford insurance on their own to band together to purchase coverage on the open market.
SB 1202, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, would prohibit such plans in Virginia from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
Obenshain called the bill "a narrowly tailored approach to a longtime issue" for conservatives opposed to the use of public funds for abortions.
"There are potential tax dollars going into these exchanges," he said.
"It's an important moral issue, and one that we feel gets at the proper role of government. Americans believe that the government ought not be funding elective abortions."
The bill is part of the Senate Republican Caucus' legislative agenda for 2011.
When health care reform was being debated in Congress last year, abortion opponents sought to impose the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the federal government from paying for abortion services. Abortion-rights supporters countered that putting such restrictions on exchanges would effectively take away access to a legal medical procedure now available to privately insured women.
The compromise struck by federal lawmakers allowed plans in the exchanges to cover abortions, provided they collect a separate premium from policy holders.
It also allowed states to opt out of abortion coverage in their exchange.
To date, Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri and Louisiana have passed legislation to that effect. Similar bills cleared the state senates of Pennsylvania and Arkansas last week.
Obenshain's bill is before the Senate Education and Health Committee. It likely will be heard Thursday.