Less than three weeks after the passage of the landmark national health-care bill, the abortion debate is being reignited: Lawmakers in least six states are pushing for legislation to block abortion coverage in some health plans.
After rancorous clashes over abortion coverage in the national bill, opponents were assured that federal funds wouldn't subsidize coverage of the procedure.
The final legislation requires insurers that sell plans in new government-run exchanges to segregate payments for abortion coverage from other premiums to ensure government subsidies won't go toward the procedure.
Still, many abortion opponents say that didn't go far enough.
So lawmakers are turning to another provision in the legislation that says states can choose to prevent plans offered through their exchanges from covering abortion altogether. That would likely affect most individual and small-group plans in a state, starting when the exchanges launch in 2014.
The new state-level proposals are likely to rekindle abortion as a political issue in November elections. Many state candidates, particularly those running for governor and state legislature, may be forced to take a position on abortion coverage, said John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "Once an issue like this starts being debated in a state, everyone could become involved," said Mr. Green, who studies how religion affects elections.
The debate could spill over to congressional races as well. But these are expected to largely turn on bigger-picture issues like the economy and the role of government, said Charlie Cook, who edits the Cook Political Report.
Since the beginning of this year, lawmakers in five states including Tennessee and Oklahoma have introduced bills that would generally block abortion coverage in exchange plans, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
In Mississippi, state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, who is a Republican candidate for Congress, plans to introduce a similar bill this month. The federal language in the health bill, Mr. Nunnelee said, is "absolutely not" enough to ensure that government funds don't support abortion. Mr. Nunnelee is in a competitive congressional race this fall, according to the Cook Political Report.
Missouri state Sen. Scott Rupp, a Republican, is also backing such a bill. The state law already says that private plans generally won't cover abortion, except through special riders, but "we had to move over the ban to the exchanges," he says.
At least one state, Kansas, has seen a bill introduced this year that would prohibit insurance plans generally—not just in an exchange—from covering abortion, with certain exceptions. Five states, including Missouri, have similar laws, which don't affect large self-funded employer plans that aren't overseen by state regulators.
Lawmakers in at least three other states have introduced bills to ban abortion coverage in plans for state employees. Twelve states currently have such laws, according to Guttmacher.