Inquirer Editorial: Beyond safety

Posted: June 10, 2011

The state Senate's hasty approval of a bill meant to deny insurance coverage for abortion is the latest episode of lawmakers' taking benighted steps to score cheap political points.

The bill would prohibit abortion coverage in any policy obtained through the new federally funded health-insurance exchanges being set up nationally through the new health-reform law. But a close look at the legislation approved Tuesday reveals it is unnecessary because the limits it seeks to impose already exist.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Don White (R., Indiana) said the step was necessary because a provision in Pennsylvania's plan to establish exchanges refers to a section of state law allowing abortions whenever a physician determines "in his best clinical judgment, the abortion is necessary."

Antiabortion activists contend that's a loophole that would allow the insurance exchanges to provide policies covering abortion.

Never mind that the exchanges, which are for the uninsured who can't get regular insurance because of pre-existing illnesses, are expected to serve mostly older people who are unlikely to get pregnant.

Never mind that Pennsylvania's federally approved plan to establish health-insurance exchanges clearly states that "elective abortions are not covered."

Never mind that President Obama has issued an executive order that prevents the exchanges from using any federal funds for abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the woman is endangered.

None of that stopped the Senate from voting 37-12, without any debate, to ban abortion coverage from all exchange policies. Supporters of the measure were clearly motivated more by the possibility of scoring political points with the pro-life lobby than any desire to actually reduce abortions.

A few weeks ago, Republican lawmakers pushed another anti-abortion bill through the House, ostensibly to prevent more travesties such as the deaths that have led to murder charges against the operator of a Philadelphia abortion clinic, Kermit Gosnell.

The House bill seeks to upgrade abortion clinics to the status of "ambulatory surgical facilities," which would require them to abide by much more stringent and expensive fire, safety, and staffing regulations. The Senate amended a similar bill Wednesday to require clinics performing abortions on women after nine weeks of pregnancy to meet the same standards as freestanding outpatient surgery centers. The amended bill now awaits action.

These measures represent a blatant attempt to shut down abortion clinics. Bad clinics should be closed. But that can be done effectively through a well-thought-out program devised by Gov. Corbett, which requires annual clinic inspections and other steps.

Gosnell's practice was kept in business by low-income women who had few alternatives. If further restrictions on abortion go too far, many of these women will do what women did before abortion was legal - seek help at underground, unregulated, unsafe facilities that jeopardize their lives.

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