The Washington state Senate has approved a measure that would require insurance companies that offer maternity care to also provide coverage for elective abortions and contraceptive drugs.
Senate Bill 6219, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Hobbs (D), was passed by the Senate by a 27–22 vote on Saturday after concurring on changes made in the House. An earlier version of the bill was approved by the Senate in January. It is now headed to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee for his expected signature.
The measure, also called the Reproductive Parity Act, would also require any plans renewed or issued after Jan. 1, 2019 to cover contraceptives and procedures such as voluntary sterilization. It does not include exceptions for religious or moral objections, according to The Daily Caller.
Hobbs has consistently introduced the bill in the Legislature for the past five years, but it has faced stiff opposition from religious pro-life groups. In January, he had insisted that abortion coverage "should be part of basic women's primary health."
"No woman should have to seek or pay for an additional rider or co-pay or have any other means of delay or financial burden for this coverage," he said.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, a Democrat from Vancouver and chair of the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee, said that Hobbs' bill "has been a long time in coming and will make a big difference in many women's lives."
Peter Sartain, the archbishop of Seattle and Washington State Catholic Conference, had expressed his objections to the bill during the hearing on Tuesday.
"It would require contraception and abortion coverage while violating the constitutionally-protected conscious rights of individuals, churches, businesses and others," the archbishop said. "Maintaining the state's commitment to religious freedom is vital," he added.
Sartain had warned that the bill would be challenged in court if it passes, noting that Catholic Churches and morally obligated businesses and organizations simply cannot include coverage for contraception and abortion.
Hobbs stated that religious entities and non-profits with moral objections are already protected, adding that the bill would not eliminate already established religious and moral protections.
Seattle attorney Theresa Shremp noted that the measure does not include an opt-out method for those who have religious or moral objections to providing abortion and contraceptive coverage, but the current law already addresses religious exemptions.
Under the 2014 Supreme Court ruling, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, religious employers or nonprofits are not required to cover contraceptives in health plans and small business owners are also not required to include contraceptive coverage based on moral conviction.