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New Ban On Abortion Coverage Easily Clears Texas Senate

Wendy Davis for Governor

AUSTIN — The battle over abortion in Texas returned to the floor where Democrat Wendy Davis staged a nearly 13-hour filibuster as the Senate on Tuesday approved eliminating coverage for the procedure under plans purchased through the federal marketplace.

The measure is not unique: More than two dozen states already have similar bans for coverage obtained through the Affordable Care Act, and abortion-rights groups have expressed surprise that Texas isn’t on that list already.

But it was notably the first bill related to abortion — a quiet issue so far in Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s first legislative session — that the Republican-controlled Senate has passed since Davis’ filibuster in 2013 catapulted her to national stardom and her supporters packed the Capitol.

The scene this time was far different. The Senate gallery was practically empty, and the bill quickly passed along party lines after Democrats raised only brief objections.

“You’re not going to be requiring other people across the spectrum to pay for a benefit that they don’t believe in,” said Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, the bill’s author. The measure now moves to the House.

Less than a month remains in the 140-day session. Two years after Texas ultimately adopted sweeping abortion restrictions over clinics despite Davis’ filibuster, Republicans are pushing a mostly smaller encore of additional limits for Abbott to sign. Abortion-rights groups say roughly 17 clinics are currently open for business in Texas. That number would plummet by half if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a portion of the 2013 law that requires abortion clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards.

A decision from that court may still be weeks or months away.

Taylor said women could still purchase supplemental insurance that would cover abortion but didn't give a ballpark cost. Most abortions occur in the first trimester and cost about $500.

Twenty-five states limit abortion coverage under federal marketplace plans, and 10 of those states also restrict abortion coverage under private health plans, said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports legal access to abortion.

Democrats challenged Taylor about whether Texas could also exclude coverage for other procedures they consider morally wrong. “What if I don’t believe in vasectomies?” Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia said.

Taylor said that issue could wait for another day. (AP)