Texas bill restricting insurance coverage for abortions nears approval

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas bill that would restrict insurance coverage for abortions was approved by the state's Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday, a move critics called cruel and damaging to women's health.

The House measure would ban insurance coverage for abortions and require women who wanted coverage to purchase a supplemental plan for an abortion, the latest effort by the most-populous Republican-controlled state to place restrictions on the procedure.

If enacted, the bill would take effect on Dec. 1 and make Texas the 11th state to restrict abortion coverage in private insurance plans written in the state.

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Protests for and against abortion in America

An anti-abortion protester with tape over her mouth demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court before the court handed a victory to abortion rights advocates, striking down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on abortion doctors and facilities in Washington June 27, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on the morning that the court took up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy in Washington March 2, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Anti-Trump demonstrator protests at abortion rights rally in Chicago, Illinois, January 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Pro-choice activists celebrate on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law that women's groups said would have forced more than three-quarters of the state's clinics to close.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Pro-life activists gather outside the Supreme Court for the National March for Life rally in Washington, DC, U.S. January 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Pro-life activists gather for the National March for Life rally in Washington January 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Pro-Choice supporters of Planned Parenthood rally outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. February 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

A man holds up a rosary in front of competing demonstrators displaying pro-life and pro-choice signs as the annual March for Life concludes at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S. January 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

Siberian Husky Tasha wears a "Huskies for Choice" sign while held by her pro-abortion owner Michelle Kinsey Bruns in front of the Supreme Court during the National March for Life rally in Washington January 22, 2016. The rally marks the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

A man stands during an anti-Planned Parenthood vigil outside the Planned Parenthood - Margaret Sanger Health Center in Manhattan, New York, U.S., February 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)

Karen Lieber joined anti-abortion activists protesting in front of Planned Parenthood, Far Northeast Surgical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., February 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charles Mostoller)

Anti-abortion supporters Marian Rumley, Taylor Miller and Sophie Caticchio from Minnesota listen to speeches at the National March for Life rally in Washington January 22, 2016. The rally marks the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

The Franciscan Friars Minor gather between The Supreme Court of the United States and The Capitol Building during the 44th annual March for Life January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. Anti-abortion advocates descended on the US capital on Friday for an annual march expected to draw the largest crowd in years, with the White House spotlighting the cause and throwing its weight behind the campaign.

(ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Pro-choice and pro-life activists demonstrate on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law that women's groups said would have forced more than three-quarters of the state's clinics to close.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Pro-life activists pray on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law that women's groups said would have forced more than three-quarters of the state's clinics to close.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Pro-choice demonstrators at the U.S. Supreme Court cheer as they learn the court struck down the Texas abortion law on Monday, June 27, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

View of demonstrators in front of the United Nations as they protest against a proposed abortion ban in Poland, New York, New York, April 17, 2016.

(Photo by Chuck Fishman/Getty Images)

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The Republican-dominated Senate has passed a similar bill, and Republican Governor Greg Abbott has shown support for the measures.

The bill's backers say it would protect abortion opponents from subsidizing the procedure. A Democratic critic decried it as forcing people to buy "rape insurance."

"It's a question of economic freedom and freedom in general," Republican Representative John Smithee, the bill's sponsor, said in House debate on Tuesday ahead of the bill receiving preliminary approval.

The Republican sponsor of the Senate bill, Brandon Creighton, has told local media supplemental coverage would cost $12 to $80 a year

House Bill 214, which passed mostly on a party-line vote, does not offer exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Abortion rights groups are likely fight the measure in court if enacted.

"Women and parents will be faced with the horrific decision of having to purchase 'rape insurance' to cover them if they are victimized," Democratic Representative Chris Turner said in a statement. "This is not only ridiculous, but it is cruel."

Idaho, Kansas and Oklahoma are among the 10 other states that make abortion coverage a supplement on private plans. There are 25 states with restrictions on abortion coverage in plans set up by state exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act under former Democratic President Barack Obama, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks such legislation.

"It is surprising that Texas has not done this before," said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager for Guttmacher.

The insurance measure is one of several bills concerning abortion before Texas lawmakers in a special session that runs through next week.

The Senate has already approved bills that include requiring physicians to improve notification of complications that occur during abortions and another that prohibits local governments from having contracts with abortion providers and their affiliates.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Shumaker)

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