Bill preventing ACA insurance from covering abortions in Montana passes House vote

HB229 was amended to create exemptions in the case of rape or incest

By: - February 3, 2021 3:14 pm

The rotunda of the state capitol of Montana. The building was originally completed in 1899 with an addition in 1911. (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan.)

The state House on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to legislation to prevent most abortions from being covered by insurance purchased on the healthcare exchange.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House passed the bill, HB229, on second reading 66-34. It awaits a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate.

“When we passed healthcare reform, there’s a provision in there … that allows states to opt out of providing abortion services,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jane Gillette, R-Bozeman.

The House also passed an amendment to the bill that Gillette brought to the floor allowing coverage for abortion by Affordable Care Act plans in instances of incest or rape. When the bill was heard in the House Judiciary Committee last week, Gillette said she’d be open to bringing such an amendment, and that the reason that language creating an exception for rape or incest wasn’t already in the bill was that she largely copied a similar proposal from 2011.

But that bill, which then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer eventually vetoed, citing the state constitution’s privacy protections, did include such provisions. Public records on the bill drafting process show Gillette in fact asked the legislative staffer in charge of crafting the language to remove those provisions, explaining that they could be added later if need be, according to previous media reports.

“This amendment should have been added in committee,” said Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen, D-Helena.

“I’m disappointed with the respect to the misleading information we were provided in committee,” he added, despite the chair of the day, Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, interrupting to steer him towards the language of the bill itself.

Even with the amendment, which Gillette said she added the amendment at the request of constituents in her district, most Democrats voted against the bill, saying it could violate the state constitution and treats women’s reproductive health different from men’s.

Montana is currently one of a small number of states that do not impose a ban on abortion coverage in plans bought on the exchange. Only one insurer in the state offers such coverage.

Gillette and other proponents of the proposal say it’s necessary to bring the state in alignment with the federal Hyde Amendment, a rule attached to Congressional spending bills that prevents the use of federal money for abortions except in case of incest, rape, or imminent harm to the mother. Due to the Hyde rule, Medicaid plans in Montana and other states already cannot cover most abortions.

“This ensures that Montana code prohibits the use of any taxpayer funds for elective abortions,” said Rep. Michele Binkley, R-Hamilton, in explaining her support for the bill.

This is the latest in several bills this session to limit access to abortions in Montana, a stated priority of Republican leadership in Helena and of Governor Greg Gianforte.

“This is yet another attempt to infringe on Montana’s right to access safe, legal abortion,” Farris-Olsen said.

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.