Senate Bill 8, authored by Rep. John Smithee of Amarillo, would forbid private insurance plans in Texas to cover abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. If a woman wants abortion coverage, they'd have to pay into a completely separate "supplemental" plan, which could add hundreds onto a monthly insurance bill.
No one ever plans on having an abortion. Maybe a woman has been using contraceptives reliably for years, or mistakenly thought she wasn't ovulating. Maybe she was raped by a man who didn't use a condom. In any case, it's often impossible to predict when a woman may need an abortion — or if she ever will. Choosing to pitch in hundreds more a month in the off chance you need a procedure you really doubt you'll ever need is a hard sell.
But go without insurance in Texas, and you could owe up to $10,000 out-of-pocket expenses.
That's why SB 214 sparked an often-ignored discussion on the House floor Tuesday: the deep economic inequities baked into abortion access. In her opposition to the bill, San Antonio Rep. Ina Minjarez said that the option of having an abortion is an economic decision because Texas specifically doesn't support the costs of raising a family. If a woman knows she can't afford a child, Minjarez argued, an abortion is often the smartest option to avoid crippling debt or poverty.
"We have to face the economic realities here," she said, with a dozen female lawmakers standing behind her in support. "This bill takes us backwards. Women face economic hardships men don't have to face."
More than a dozen lawmakers pinned white roses to their lapels Tuesday in opposition to the bill, representing a woman who died in the 1970s after opting into an illegal abortion to save money to support her children. It's a practice that has continued in Texas to present day. In 2015, a University of Texas survey found that at least 100,000 women in Texas have tried to end their pregnancy by themselves, with pills, herbs, dangerous tools, or self-harm. Researchers found that distance to an abortion clinic and cost were both major factors in these women's decisions.
"This bill is not about the safety of women," Minjarez said. "This bill is about denying Texas women their right to a safe abortion."
Rep. Smithee argued that his bill was based on economic freedoms. Just not those of low-income women. In a discussion on the House floor, he told lawmakers it was his "personal preference" to not have to pay for insurance that covers abortion, since it means his dollars will essentially subsidize other people's abortion procedures.
"Have you ever had a hysterectomy?" Houston Rep. Gene Wu asked Smithee in response, hinting at the fact he already covers female-only procedures with his insurance.
"Medically, I don't know," Smithee said.
There seems to be a number of questions left to answer (like: does Smithee understand the human body?). But after a nearly 4-hour debate, the House voted along party lines. The legislation needs one more floor vote before it bumps over to the to the Senate, which has already approved an equivalent bill.