It is a truth universally acknowledged that the group of misfits calling themselves the Tea Party in the Texas Legislature won’t consider a session complete without passing at least one bill that decimates women’s right to control their own healthcare. 2011 saw the sonogram bill that mandated a series of unnecessary medical procedures before a woman can get an abortion, and 2013 brought the infamous HB 2 that shut down nearly every abortion clinic in the state. And now, the Texas Senate has approved a bill that prohibits private health insurance companies from covering abortion, except when there is a “medical emergency” threatening the life of the mother.
The bill, SB 575, authored by Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) passed the Senate by a vote of 21-10 that was almost entirely on party lines, with our old friend, anti-choice Democrat Eddie Lucio, voting in favor of the bill. As the Houston Chronicle noted, the bill is “the first major measure related to [abortion]to make it out of either chamber this session.”
Taylor says that his bill permits women to get “elective” abortions, but they will have to pay for them out of pocket. Importantly, the bill does not include exceptions in cases of rape or incest, severe fetal abnormalities, or certain instances which endanger the health of the mother.
Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) was quick to call out the lack of support for women who are already facing some of the toughest moments in their lives. He established that women would have to pay out-of-pocket for an abortion in cases “in which a woman was raped, found out her fetus had a severe abnormality or was in danger after developing cancer.” Taylor’s sole response was that these were “extreme” examples that weren’t relevant.
But Watson shot right back by noting that, “A person who finds themselves in any of the three scenarios I just talked about might consider our actions to be extreme if we make this difficult decision more difficult by denying insurance coverage.”
With the passage of SB 575, Texas is now on track to join the 10 states who currently prohibit insurance companies from covering abortion. An additional 15 states have prevented health insurance plans that are sold on insurance exchanges from covering abortion. If Texas were to make this bill into law, that would mean that more than half of the country has put restrictions on insurance coverage for a constitutionally-protected medical procedure. There are even several states without exceptions for cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
The bill now moves to the Republican-controlled Texas House, where it is likely to pass. The House has already passed a bill that bans insurance plans sold on exchanges from covering abortion, so taking it to the next level and getting rid of all insurance coverage doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for them.
Unfortunately for Texas women, it’s unlikely that insurance companies would even be able to offer supplemental coverage for abortion, given how the market operates. Sam Richardson, assistant professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Dallas Morning News that, “An insurance company would ‘need to price this coverage at a pretty high level because the only people that would buy it are people who think that they might want to get an abortion at some point…And so basically you have this problem where you’re unable to spread risk over a large population.'” What this means is that supplemental coverage is unlikely to enter the market, and even if it did, it would be very expensive, making it out of reach for those who would need it most.
For the past few years, the close of each legislative session has meant a new law that makes it even tougher to be a healthy woman in Texas (especially if you’re poor.) With the end of the 84th legislative session approaching, it looks like this year will be no different.