Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, left, Sen. Judson Hill and Irene Munn, general counsel and director of policy with the lieutenant governor's office, look over changes made in the House to Hill's bill, SB 98. The bill would bar the state employee health insurance plan from covering abortions in most cases. BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Brant Sanderlin
Photo: Brant Sanderlin

Abortion bill passes Georgia Legislature

Legislation that would bar the state employee health insurance plan from covering abortions in most cases received final passage Tuesday from the Georgia Legislature, sending it to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Senate Bill 98 passed after both the House and Senate agreed to changes made to the bill in committee. House members voted first, 105-64, to approve the measure. The Senate then voted 36-18 to do the same.

The bill makes no exception for rape or incest, only allowing consideration of a medical emergency involving the life of the mother. It doesn’t make any medical procedure that is legal today illegal. It instead dictates how medical care involving abortions is paid for through the state health plans and through insurance exchanges offered via the Affordable Care Act.

SB 98, authored by Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, makes permanent a decision made last year by the Department of Community Health’s board to bar abortion coverage under the state health plan except when the life of the mother is at stake. That move followed a directive from Gov. Nathan Deal after lawmakers failed to pass a similar bill in the waning hours of the 2013 session.

“This legislation provides permanency rather than the temporary nature of rules and regs,” said Rep. Richard Smith, a Republican from Columbus and chairman of the House Insurance Committee.

But Democrats in both chambers decried what Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, called an “egregious attack” on women’s access to health care.

House Minority Whip Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, said only nine other states bar their employee health plans from funding abortion in cases of rape and incest.

“What we’re saying to people working for us in this Capitol is we love you, but you better not get raped,” Hugley said. “Because if you do, you’re going to have to carry that pregnancy to term.”

Hugley also criticized Smith’s handling of the bill in committee. SB 98 had no subcommittee hearing, and the public was not allowed to testify last week when his panel approved the bill in less than 15 minutes.

That process, in fact, was so rushed that the amended version approved by the committee had a glaring error. That version of the bill said any rule or regulation approved by the DCH board as of Jan. 1, 2014, would become law.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported afterward that no such rule or regulation exists. The board’s vote in August to bar abortion coverage was not a rule or regulation under state law. That loophole was closed by the House Rules Committee.

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