Lifting some of the fog surrounding an anti-abortion bill

The following report comes from my AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin:

Late Tuesday afternoon, the House Insurance Committee pushed through changes to Senate Bill 98. The bill was designed to memorialize in state law a vote last summer by the governing board of the Department of Community Health to ban coverage of abortions under the State Health Benefits Plan -- except in the case of a medical emergency.

The version of the bill that passed the Senate on March 3 said, “No (state) health insurance plan shall offer coverage for abortion services except in the case of medical emergency.”

The version the House committee approved says the state plan shall not cover expenses “for abortion services, except to the extent permitted under rules or regulations of the board as such existed on Jan. 1., 2014.”

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, had not seen the changes until he sat down to testify at the House committee. Many members of the committee had not seen it before the sat down to vote on it. No public comment was allowed and no amendments were, either. 

The big problem? There are no DCH board rules or regulations addressing abortion coverage, a spokeswoman for the department told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

Even though SB 98 was designed to codify the board’s vote, which itself came at the urging of Gov. Nathan Deal.

Yes, the board voted in August to bar coverage of most abortions, but that is different under state law than a rule or regulation, two terms that have specific meanings in the code.

So where does that leave us? The board’s decision remains in place – abortions would still not be covered should SB 213 pass as is. But if it became law in its current form it would apparently have little or no impact, since it refers to restrictions that don’t exist.

If the reference to a ghost rule was a mistake, there is time left in the legislative session to change it.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.
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