Washington May Soon Require Companies to Cover Elective Abortions Regardless of Religious Objections

Legislature passes bill requiring insurance providers that offer maternity care to also cover elective abortions

President Barack Obama and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee / Getty Images
March 6, 2018

The Washington State Legislature on Saturday passed a bill mandating that insurance providers offering maternity care must also cover elective abortions in addition to contraceptive drugs and devices.

The Reproductive Parity Act, Senate Bill 6219, introduced by Democratic state senator Steve Hobbs, passed the state legislature on a near party-line vote. The act requires health insurance companies that offer plans covering maternity care to also offer "substantially equivalent coverage" permitting the elective abortion of a pregnancy.

The legislation also requires health plans issued or renewed after Jan. 1, 2019 to provide coverage, without requiring a copayment or deductible, for contraceptive drugs and devices, as well as for voluntary sterilization procedures. If enacted, the bill would allow women access to contraceptive drugs and devices, such as the morning after pill and IUDs, for next to no cost out of pocket.

Hobbs told the Associated Press in January that he believes it is unfair to require women to cover the additional costs of medical procedures and contraceptive devices that he says are part of "basic women's primary health."

"No woman should have to seek or pay for an additional rider or copay or have any other means of delay or financial burden for this coverage," Hobbs said.

The most controversial aspect of the legislation is that it does not include exceptions for religious groups or organizations that hold moral reservations about abortion. The legislation as written would require individuals and employers who provide health insurance to cover the costs associated with elective abortion procedures, even if they hold religious or conscientious objections to the practice. The bill does not delineate between non-profit organizations, like Catholic charities, and corporations, as other states have done when implementing similar measures. Instead, it subjects those institutions to the same blanket requirement.

Pro-life advocates and religious groups have opposed Hobbs's legislation on the grounds that it violates the "constitutionally-protected conscience rights" of individuals and organizations.

In a letter submitted to the legislature outlining its opposition to the bill, the Washington State Catholic Conference argued that the legislation, if enacted, would compel individuals to support practices contrary to their conscience.

"As the bill is currently written, health insurance plans that object to offering coverage that includes abortion may not have any legal protection," the conference wrote.  "No person should be compelled to do something contrary to his or her individual conscience."

Hobbs's office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The legislation is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee's (D.) desk, where it awaits further consideration. Various news outlets covering the bill have implied that Inslee is likely to sign the legislation, given his long history of supporting abortion measures.

A representative of Inslee would not say whether the governor has decided to sign or veto the bill; the Washington Free Beacon was told, however, that all legislation is subject to review by Inslee and his staff before a final action is determined.

In previous years, the Parity Act failed to receive consideration in the state Senate. Since taking control of the majority in November, however, Democrats have made abortion rights and LGBTQ equality issues top priorities.

Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, said that the Parity Act is not rooted in the reality of what has been learned about abortion in the past 45 years.

"Over the last 45 years, in the wake of over 60 million abortions, Americans have been turning against this atrocious practice. Ultrasounds and technological advances have shown Americans that these are beautiful babies with brainwaves and heartbeats—and they even feel pain," Schilling said. "Every legislator that voted for this bill should be ashamed of themselves."

On Monday, Washington's senior U.S. senator, Patty Murray (D.), signaled her support for the measure on Twitter, saying she is proud to see her state "leading the way" in ensuring women have access to "contraception and abortion."