Senate panel OK with abortion coverage ban


LITTLE ROCK — A Senate panel on Wednesday endorsed a bill that would prohibit insurers from providing abortion coverage in policies offered through Arkansas’ health insurance exchange.

With the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee’s 5-2 vote, House Bill 1100 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, now goes to the Senate. It previously passed the House.

Meanwhile, the sponsor of another abortion bill, which would ban the procedure at the point a fetus can feel pain, or after 20 weeks of pregnancy, pulled the measure from consideration by the panel and said it needed more work.

Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, told the committee some members had raised concerns about his HB 1037, titled The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Mayberry told reporters later that some committee members questioned why his bill lacked exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. He said four members of the eight-member panel supported the bill but it needed a favorable vote from at least one Democrat to advance to the full Senate. The committee is comprised of four Republicans and four Democrats.

“There’s not a rape or incest exclusion in this current bill and I think a couple members of the committee might be more supportive of (this bill) if it had one in there,” Mayberry said.

He said he does not want to add the exclusion but he does want to talk with the committee members.

HB 1037 passed the House 75-20 on Monday.

SB 1100, which the Senate committee endorsed Wednesday, would prohibit insurers from offering coverage for elective abortions through the state’s health insurance exchange except through a separate rider on the policy with a separate premium which would have to be paid by the customer.

Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, told the panel that the federal Affordable Health Care Act allows states to opt out of offering abortion coverage. She said 18 states have approved similar legislation.

Speaking against the bill Bettina Brownstein, an attorney representing the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the measure is meaningless because currently no federal or state money is used to pay for abortions.

Brownstein said there are currently no insurance riders for abortions offered, so the bill would essentially prohibit anyone from receiving an abortion under the federal Affordable Health Care Act.

“This will prevent women from purchasing private insurance on the insurance exchange with their own money,” she said. “The Legislature has no right to tell a woman what she can do with her hard-earned money.”

Booth Rand, attorney for the state Insurance Department, said he did not think the bill is unconstitutional because it only repeats current federal law. However, he did say there are currently no insurance riders for abortion available.

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, who supports the bill, said insurance companies would begin offering the rider.

“I can guarantee companies will offer it if customers demand it,” she said.