News Abortion

Virginia Governor Proposes Amendment to Strip Abortion Coverage From State Exchange Insurance Plans

Robin Marty

Now the governor of Virginia doesn't even want to allow women to pay for abortion coverage out of pocket.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has followed through on his plan to eliminate abortion coverage from the state insurance exchange, even if women choose to purchase it separately with their own money. The Republican governor has added amendments to both the state house and senate insurance reform bills—amendments that would strip away a woman’s ability to use her own money to decide what health options she wants covered in her personal insurance plan in order to placate anti-choice activists.

Caroline O’Shea, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said in a statement that the amendment is a move to “advance an extreme anti-choice agenda.”

“With this amendment, Gov. McDonnell is once again attempting to intrude in women’s health-care decisions and block Virginians access to the critical medical care they need,” said O’Shea. “Coverage for safe, legal abortion care—a procedure an estimated one in three women will access in their lifetimes—is a basic benefit that most insurance plans currently include. By banning women from using their own funds to purchase plans that include this common benefit, Gov. McDonnell is restricting Virginians’ personal economic decisions as well as their access to comprehensive care.”

A coalition of pro-choice action groups in the state also spoke out against the amendment. “This amendment denies private insurance companies the ability to supply, and individuals the right to demand, comprehensive health care,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, in a statement. “Taking away insurance coverage for a legal medical procedure that most plans have covered for years leaves women in a dangerous situation if they find themselves in need of serious medical care resulting from complex and sometimes life-threatening pregnancies. If insurance companies already provide basic benefits, politicians shouldn’t interfere.”

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The amendment represents the latest anti-choice political action from a governor who spent the 2012 legislative session championing forced transvaginal ultrasounds. Virginia continues to be embroiled in controversy this year over a law that could force many of the abortion clinics in the state to close if they cannot afford unnecessary construction changes to their facilities.

News Health Systems

Virginia Governor Stops ‘Out of Touch’ Effort to Defund Planned Parenthood

Nicole Knight Shine

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the GOP funding restrictions were likely unconstitutional and noted that federal courts have struck down similar laws in North Carolina and Texas.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Tuesday vetoed legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, thwarting the latest GOP-led attempt to gut reproductive health-care services.

HB 1090 would have prevented the Virginia Department of Health from issuing grants or contracts with organizations that provide abortion care, except for licensed hospitals. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge County) carved out exceptions for providers who perform procedures in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or in cases of life endangerment.

The legislation had cleared the house in a 64-35 vote and the state senate 21 to 19. Republicans dominate the state house and have a two-seat edge in the state senate.

“This bill, aimed at Planned Parenthood, would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on the health care services and programs provided by Planned Parenthood health centers by denying them access to affordable care,” McAuliffe said in a statement issued Tuesday following the veto.

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“They are out of touch with women, with health care providers, and with Virginia families,” McAuliffe said of legislators who supported the Republican bill, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

McAuliffe said the measure would have outlawed contracts between the health department and the nonprofit Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, which conducts at its facilities about 500 annual tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The state health department has two contracts with Planned Parenthood totaling $26,200, as the Virginian-Pilot reported. The contracts are for STI education and testing.

fiscal impact statement prepared by the state Virginia Department of Planning and Budget indicated the measure had the potential to “increase the rates of sexually transmitted disease, increase health care costs resulting from undiagnosed disease, and lead to increased cases of ophthalmic gonorrhea/chlamydia in the newborns of infected women.”

McAuliffe said the GOP funding restrictions were likely unconstitutional and noted that federal courts have struck down similar laws in North Carolina and Texas.

The measure was the latest salvo in a Republican-led campaign to strip Planned Parenthood of funding, after a series of deceptive, covertly recorded videos by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) purported to show the health-care provider illegally trafficking in fetal tissue. Two key figures from the anti-choice front group, which has worked closely with Republican lawmakers, now face charges related to the discredited smear videos.

Twenty states have either cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing or declined to investigate the health-care organization.

Republican lawmakers, however, remain undeterred. An ongoing congressional investigation is now subpoenaing the names of doctors, patients, and clinic staff in what Democratic leaders have called a “dangerous witch hunt.” Congressional Republicans have tried repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood.

In 2015, 11 state legislatures introduced, passed, or enacted measures to gut funding of health-care providers like Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute found.

The Guttmacher analysis shows that defunding Planned Parenthood could seriously curtail health-care access. Planned Parenthood sites are the sole safety-net family planning center in one-fifth of counties in which they are located. Planned Parenthood health centers serve at least half of those obtaining birth control from safety-net health centers in two-thirds of the 491 counties where they are located.

News Abortion

GOP-Controlled Virginia Senate Committee Defeats Pro-Choice Bills

Nina Liss-Schultz

A Virginia Senate committee last week defeated three bills that would have improved access to abortion in the state.

A Virginia Senate committee last week defeated three bills that would have improved access to abortion in the state.

All three bills would have struck down current Virginia law. SB 733 would have repealed the state law requiring patients undergo a transabdominal ultrasound before getting an abortion, while SB 920 would have removed the part of the ultrasound law requiring that it be given 24 hours prior to the abortion.

“As an administrator of three women’s health centers in the Commonwealth, I have witnessed first-hand the barriers that Virginia’s mandatory ultrasounds and 24 hour waiting period requirements have on Virginia women and the doctors that serve them,” Jill Abbey, administrator of the Richmond, Roanoke, and Charlottesville Medical Centers for Women, said in a statement. “Our patients are often forced to return to our facility as many as three times before accessing an abortionwhich can mean additional travel expenses, child care costs, and time off work.”

A third bill, SB 769, would have repealed a Virginia law banning the coverage of abortion in health insurance plans sold through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges.

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These bills were among six pro-choice pieces of legislation introduced in the state this session. The state senate introduced four reproductive-related bills, including the three defeated last week. The fourth, SB 1277, was defeated earlier in January.

Virginia’s legislature includes a slim 21-19 GOP state senate majority and a 68-34 Republican advantage in the house.

Meanwhile, several anti-choice bills are moving forward in the state, including one that would ban abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization.