The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


April 5, 2013

Abortion debate riles Virginia Assembly

By Fredrick Kunkle

The Washington Post

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia General Assembly's decision Wednesday to prohibit insurers from offering abortion coverage in federally managed health-insurance exchanges under the federal Affordable Care Act has reopened an emotional debate along familiar partisan divides.

But members of both parties agree that the measure's biggest impact will likely fall along class lines, landing hardest on some of the people the federal health-care overhaul was designed to help: working women who barely get by on their incomes.

"Those people that can afford insurance outside of the exchanges will be able to buy whatever they want. People that can't afford to buy outside of the exchange will have to buy policies that don't cover these procedures," said state Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, who sponsored the bill but opposed the amendment by Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell. "It just sets up a class situation, in my mind."

Lawmakers convened in a one-day session Wednesday to consider legislation vetoed or amended by McDonnell, including an overhaul of transportation funding, possible reform and expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, adjustments to the state's two-year, $84.4 billion budget and other legislation, such as a qualified two-year moratorium on law enforcement's use of drones.

The governor also sought to obtain an additional $450,000 for the Opportunity Educational Institution, a new statewide division empowered to take over failing schools. But the legislature maintained funding at the $150,000 agreed to during the regular 46-day session this year and concluded the one-day session shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday after reaching agreement on the appointment of judges.

Nothing raised voices more than the debate over abortion as the legislators voted to accept the governor's abortion-related amendments to two identical bills — sponsored by Watkins and state Del. Thomas Rust, R-Fairfax — whose intent was to prepare the state for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Like 25 other states, Virginia has opted to let the federal government manage the exchanges that will offer health-care policies for people who might not be able to afford insurance. The exchanges are to begin enrolling people in October for coverage that would start on Jan. 1.

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