HELENA — The Montana House Judiciary Committee on Friday advanced a bill that would ban coverage of abortion procedures by health insurance plans offered through the state insurance exchange
The Republican-backed bill also would deny coverage when pregnancies are the result of rape incest but would allow coverage when the life of the mother is endangered.
The 12-7 vote with all in favor by Republicans and all against from Democrats came a day after President Joe Biden instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to consider rescinding Trump regulations that bar federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions.
Biden campaigned on repealing longstanding federal prohibitions against taxpayer funding for most abortions, known as the Hyde Amendment. But that move would require congressional approval.
Supporters of the Montana bill have said taxpayer dollars should not pay for a procedure that some find reprehensible. Opponents said turning the bill into law would make abortion out of reach for low-income Montana families.
“This is the ultimate government overreach,” said Tom Roberts, a retired doctor from Missoula. “It allows our government to dictate to the private sector what type of insurance coverage can be denied to private customers. It puts insured women in the position of potentially having to pay for an expensive medical procedure themselves, a burden that many are unable to afford.”
Matt Brower, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference, said that including abortion coverage in government subsidized insurance plans “forces taxpayers to contribute to ending the lives of unborn children.”
“This bill helps protect the conscience of individuals who do not wish to contribute to funding abortion,” Brower said.
The committee hearing on the bill came a day after Gov. Greg Gianforte, the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years, signaled his support for placing restrictions on abortion access in the state.
Gianforte promised he would sign at least two out of four abortion-related bills already advanced by the Montana House in the first month of the legislative session. Those bills would ban abortion in most cases after 20 weeks of gestation and would require abortion providers to care for infants born alive during abortion procedures.
The bill advanced by Rep. Jane Gillette, a Republican from Bozeman, is a repeat of a similar bill that was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011, only to be vetoed by then-Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
In his letter explaining the veto, Schweitzer wrote that the bill would violate the state constitution by infringing on women’s rights to privacy and access reproductive health care.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, there are 26 states that have restrictions on abortion coverage in plans offered through health insurance exchanges.
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