News Abortion

Arizona Lawmakers Seek Ban on Insurance Coverage for Abortion Care

Teddy Wilson

While the media was focused on Super Bowl XLIX at Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium, just a few miles away at the state capitol, Republican lawmakers quietly introduced a bill to restrict reproductive rights.

While the media was focused on Super Bowl XLIX at Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium, just a few miles away at the state capitol, Republican lawmakers quietly introduced a bill to restrict reproductive rights.

Under current state law, any health insurance policy offered through a state exchange is banned from providing coverage for abortions unless the coverage is offered as an optional rider for which an additional insurance premium is charged. This does not, however, apply to abortions necessary to save the life, or prevent significant physical impairment, of the woman having the abortion. There is no exception for rape or incest.

SB 1318 would remove the provision permitting the purchase and payment for a separate optional rider. The bill would also apply to any health-care exchange operating in the state, which could effectively ban any health insurance from covering abortion care.

“The weekend the Super Bowl came to town, anti-choice legislators dropped a bill that would not only target abortion providers with additional and unnecessary regulations, but also restrict the private sector from contracting with privately-contracted insurance agencies to access women’s health care,” Kat Sabine, executive director of NARAL Arizona, told Rewire.

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Arizona already mandates that physicians providing abortion care obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic or facility in which abortions are performed. SB 1318 adds a requirement to the statute that requires clinics to submit “all documentation” related to the physician’s admitting privileges to the state’s Department of Health.

“With the extreme financial budget deficits the State of Arizona faces, a focus on job creation and excellence in employee recruitment should be the focus of this administration, and not imposing additional restrictions on the private sector support for employee health care,” Sabine said.

The Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), a right-wing think tank, supports the anti-choice legislation, claiming that the bill only prevents “taxpayer funding of abortion” and ensures abortion clinics comply with the state’s “regulatory framework.”

CAP also claims that medical and surgical abortion care “present serious risks to women,” thus necessitating the need for physicians to obtain admitting privileges. This is contrary to overwhelming evidence that shows abortion is both safe and highly regulated.

Both chambers of the Arizona legislature are controlled by Republicans, who hold a 17-13 advantage in the state senate and a 39-25 advantage in the house.

The bill has been assigned to the state senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, where it awaits further action.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

News Politics

Tim Kaine Clarifies Position on Federal Funding for Abortion, Is ‘for the Hyde Amendment’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, clarified during an interview with CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

During Kaine’s appearance on New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asked the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee whether he was “for or against” the ban on funding for abortion. Kaine replied that he had “been for the Hyde Amendment,” adding “I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told CNN on Sunday that Kaine had “said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment.” Another Clinton spokesperson later clarified to the network that Kaine’s commitment had been “made privately.”

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

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“We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment,” reads the platform.

Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he was not aware that the party had put language outlining support for repealing Hyde into the platform, noting that he had “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports Hyde’s repeal, calling the abortion care restriction “hard to justify.”

Abortion rights advocates say that Hyde presents a major obstacle to abortion access in the United States.

“The Hyde amendment is a violent piece of legislation that keeps anyone on Medicaid from accessing healthcare and denies them full control over their lives,” Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement. “Whether or not folks believe in the broken U.S. political system, we are all impacted by the policies that it produces. … Abortion access issues go well beyond insurance and the ability to pay, but removing the Hyde Amendment will take us light years closer to where we need to be.”