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Bill Restricting Abortion Coverage No Long Shot, Says Senate GOP

A state Senate committee has passed a proposal to restrict abortion coverage in health insurance plans provided through Pennsylvania's federally mandated exchange.

Last session, similar measures passed the House and Senate independently, but neither one made it through the entire legislative gauntlet.

But with the 2014 operational date for health care exchanges right around the corner, Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson said this measure may go to the finish line.

"I think that it is more likely that one version of this bill or another will make it to the governor's desk this year," Arneson said.

The proposal would prohibit health insurance plans offered through the state exchange from covering abortions, except those required to prevent the death of the mother or to end pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Its aim is to keep state funding from going toward abortion services. Exchanges are prohibited from using federal funds to pay for abortion services - they must charge separate premiums for abortion coverage.

The American Civil Liberties Union is decrying the measure as extreme.

"Follow the supporters' logic to the ultimate conclusion," said ACLU Pennsylvania lobbyist Andy Hoover. "We might conclude that public money pays for roads and women travel on roads to get to abortion clinics so perhaps we should just ban abortion in situations where someone uses public transportation or infrastructure to get to an abortion clinic."

But states are permitted under the Affordable Care Act to limit abortion coverage offered through the exchanges, and according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 17 others have passed laws to do so.

Arneson said though his caucus hasn't counted votes on the proposal, he doubts support would rely solely on the 27 Republicans in the Senate.

"This is not an issue in Pennsylvania that tends to fall on partisan lines," Arneson said.

Last session, the same bill limiting abortion coverage passed the state Senate by a vote of 37 to 12.

"So if this bill comes up for a vote again this year, which I think it will, I would not be surprised to see a similar result," he said.