RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Tuesday, the House of Delegates passed a bill that could make abortions more affordable for thousands of women in Virginia.
The party-line 55-45 vote in the House sends the bill to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk after the Senate passed its companion bill last week. If Northam signs the legislation, Virginia would become the first state in the south to lift a ban limiting access to abortion under certain health insurance providers.
The Affordable Care Act–also known as Obamacare–created a virtual marketplace where people can shop for health insurance. Under current law, private providers selling plans on Virginia’s health benefits exchange are barred from covering most abortions.
Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who sponsored the legislation, said this has forced many women to pay out-of-pocket for the procedure, which can cost $1,000 in some cases.
“It has made access to care unaffordable and out of reach for many women, particularly low income women, women in rural communities and black and brown women,” McClellan said.
McClellan’s bill would not impact coverage for those on Medicaid or employer-based policies. It would allow–but not require–private insurers on the state’s health benefits exchange to cover all legal abortions for the first time in a decade.
McClellan’s office estimates that this will impact 240,000 Virginians currently enrolled in these plans, though it’s not clear how many of those people can actually become pregnant.
The Virginia Catholic Conference was among the groups that pushed for the ban in the first place, according to Executive Director Jeff Caruso.
“Abortion is not healthcare because abortion ends a life instead of healing a life,” Caruso said.
If the coverage ban is lifted, Caruso is concerned that tax payer dollars could be used to indirectly fund elective abortions.
Federal law prohibits public funds from being used to pay for the procedure, except in cases of incest, rape, or if the life of the mother is at stake.
The bill’s fiscal impact statement further notes that the State Corporation Commission’s Bureau of Insurance and Health Benefit Exchange must ensure that “insurance carriers are billing, collecting and accounting for the portion of premium attributable to elective abortions for which federal funds cannot be used.”
However, Caruso said tax dollars will still be used to manage the healthcare exchange and for subsidizing health plans for low-and middle-income Virginians.
“We don’t want those tax dollars to be able to fund plans that cover abortions,” Caruso said.
That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), the only Democrat to vote against the bill.
“If taxpayer dollars are used to fund any portion of an exchange that allows for a policy that will pay for an abortion then you come to the undeniable conclusion that tax payer dollars are supporting the public allowance of abortion,” Morrissey said. “That’s why I, in good faith, could not support that bill.”
The passage of the legislation comes after the General Assembly repealed various abortion restrictions in 2020 under Democratic control, including requirements that a woman receive an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before going through with the procedure.