Bill restricting abortion insurance coverage goes into effect

Chase Karacostas

A Republican-sponsored bill restricting insurance coverage for abortions goes into effect in Texas today.  

House Bill 214, passed during the state’s summer special legislative session, requires women to pay a separate insurance premium for non-emergency abortions. Authored by Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, the bill does not include exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities.

The bill was one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda items for the special session, which he called shortly after the end of the regular session in May.

“This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions,” Gov. Abbott said in a press release after signing the bill.  “I am grateful to the Texas legislature for … working to protect innocent life this special session.”

Smithee was unavailable for comment prior to publication of this article.

Critics of HB 214 dubbed it the “rape insurance” bill because of the lack of exceptions for rape or incest. Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, was a staunch opponent of the bill during the
special session.

Now that the bill is being implemented, Howard said the bill, in practice, will not likely have any major ramifications because many insurance plans already do not cover abortion. The bigger issue is the “chilling effect” it has on women seeking an abortion or doctors who might carry out the procedure, Howard said.

“Part of it is just an ongoing effort to just continue … to make it more and more difficult (to get an abortion) regardless of how pervasive the effects might be,” Howard said. “The fact that this is continuously being at the top of our agenda I think presents some dissuasion in and of itself.”

Howard said one effect the bill could have is reducing the ability of lower-income women from getting an abortion. Some women might not have the money to buy health insurance in the first place, and adding this requirement puts an abortion even further out of reach.

Jensen Soderlund, president of abortion rights advocacy group Texas Rising, said the fact that the bill lacks exceptions for incidences of rape or incest gives credibility to the belief that women need to be prepared for rape, which contributes to rape culture. 

“It’s upsetting for a lot of reasons,” government sophomore Soderlund said. “I love Texas …. It hurts that sometimes it feels like the Texas government doesn’t care about women as much as (it) should.”

Alicia Torres, president of pro-life group Texas Students for Life, said she has mixed feelings on the bill. While she said she always supports legislation discouraging women from getting an abortion, she doesn’t like the possible implication that only wealthy individuals can afford one.

“It’s sort of coming at the whole issue sideways,” said Torres, human dimensions of organization junior. “I prefer policies that are both stopping abortion because abortion is wrong and always ends a human life, and … address the root problems that cause women to get an abortion in the first place.”

In cases of rape or incest, Torres said she is glad there is not an exception within the bill. Having the option to get an abortion only adds to the stress and trauma of that experience, Torres said.

“I think especially in those cases, restricting abortion access is a great idea,” Torres said. “It does remove that tiny problem, which is that temptation (for a mother) to hurt her child and herself longterm.”