Abortion Debate Ratchets Up in the Texas Capitol

Representatives Donna Howard and John Smithee speak from opposite sides of a proposed bill that sets apart contingency abortion insurance.

By Jill Ament and Rhonda FanningAugust 9, 2017 1:42 pm,

Rhetoric from both sides of a contested abortion bill raged on for hours yesterday at the Texas State Capitol, with Democratic state representatives pushing back against a Republican-led bill that would require women to pay a separate health insurance premium to get coverage for abortions that are not deemed medical emergencies. It’s one of several abortion-related measures making headway during this legislative special session.

State Representatives Donna Howard (D-Austin) and House Bill author John Smithee (R-Amarillo) hold opposing viewpoints on the proposed legislation and each provide a sample of their parties’ position on the bill.

First up is Rep. Howard, who says state Republicans have turned the debate on women’s health into a political opportunity and have once again found a way to obstruct women’s access to safe, legal abortions.

On the main concerns Rep. Howard has about the emotionally charged bill:
“In this 30-day special session, this is our third abortion-related bill. These things seem to have more of a political purpose than an actual public health purpose. Right now, most insurance plans cover abortions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. They do not cover the so-called elective abortions … just like they don’t cover eye lifts that are not medically necessary.”

How Howard views the aspect of faith a measure like House Bill 214, which is designed to keep people with moral, religious and philosophical objections from having to pay for abortions:
“The whole point of an insurance pool is that it brings everyone into it regardless of whether you actually use that particular health benefit or not. There are people who have moral or religious objections to a variety of health-related procedures. We can’t start going down that slippery slope of saying what we can and cannot cover based on someone’s religious beliefs. To suggest that a family would have to pre-determine that their daughter might be the victim of a horrific sexual assault or incest and … that they might need to have supplemental insurance to cover an abortion as a result … is really unconscionable.”

What Howard sees playing out in the final week of the Texas Legislature’s special session:
“There are a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiating going on right now to see if we can get certain things through or if we can block certain things. It’s a lot of plate-spinning right now — we’ll see which ones fall off and which ones go through.”

Rep. Smithee weighs in next on his reasons for filing HB 214, which would require women obtain separate insurance coverage for certain abortions.

Why Smithee is pushing his separate insurance requirement proposal:
“There is a vast percentage of people in the state of Texas who find abortion in most instances to be wrong – either morally or ethically – based on religious grounds or philosophically. And they’re being put in positions of having to pay for coverage for a procedure that they would prefer not to. So, as a matter of economic freedom, we’re simply saying, ‘If you want to pay for coverage, you can, but the government’s not going to force you to carry it.'”

On Smithee’s response to Howard’s argument that since most insurance policies currently don’t cover non-emergency abortions, his bill is unnecessary:
“Some [policies] do. In fact, I would say many do. We had done a survey and found that there’s a variety of types of procedures that are covered. But [the bill] is going to provide choice to the consumer. I think Rep. Howard has a point from the standpoint that this is typically not a relatively expensive procedure. And I would say in the vast majority of cases, the cost of the procedure does not even rise to the deductible of the insurance coverage. So, even though the procedure may be technically covered, there’s no insurance payment made.”

How Smithee, who said, “The act of rape very rarely results in a pregnancy,” sees the government’s role in the decision to make exceptions in legislation for cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormalities:
“People can make that decision right now under existing law. This question is just who’s gonna be forced to pay for the procedure. People have tried to make this a debate over the legality or accessibility or availability of abortion procedures. It has nothing at all to do with that. And, as a matter of fact, very seldom is the procedure even paid for by insurance.”

On what Smithee predicts will happen over the session’s last days:
“Both sides are gonna have to make a lot of progress because there really hasn’t been legislation that’s passed both houses. Finally, today on House calendar, we have some Senate bills. But both houses have been passing a lot of bills that have just gone across to the other side that haven’t really met in the middle. So, we’re running out of time and it certainly doesn’t appear that the entire agenda the governor laid out is gonna pass. It’s still up in the air.”

Written by Louise Rodriguez