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3/13/2012 8:53:00 AM
Abortion bill stalls amid budget fight
Catholic News Service photo
Pro-life demonstrators march at the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash.
Catholic News Service photo
Pro-life demonstrators march at the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington State Catholic Conference thought the fight for religious liberty was entering a crisis in the Evergreen State. But then the church and other groups marveled early this month as a controversial pro-abortion bill languished amid a state budget battle.

Legislation that seemed likely to pass the Washington state Senate would have mandated coverage for abortion in private health insurance plans that provide coverage of maternity care. House Bill 2330 passed in the House and had moved through two Senate committees.

But the bill never made it to the Senate floor, caught up in a surprise Republican victory over deep budget cuts. Three Democrats came over to the side of austerity. After that, two attempts to bring the abortion mandate to the Senate floor failed.

If OK’d in the Senate, the bill would likely have been signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is Catholic. It would have been the nation’s first law to compel employers to give workers coverage for abortion. Sister Sharon Park of Washington State Catholic Conference described the bill as “a direct assault on certainly religious liberty but also on the sanctity of human life.”

Supporters said the legislation would have ensured that women have access to abortions when the federal Affordable Care Act comes into effect in 2014. Opponents argued it would have expanded abortion coverage, cost too much and forced some religious institutions to act contrary to conscience. The Washington State Catholic Conference said the bill would have endangered the state’s eligibility for federal funding for health care, education and labor.

The U.S. Catholic bishops foresaw the possibility of forced abortion coverage when making themselves heard over federal health reform. Abortion has been in the background as a likely next threat as the bishops and other church groups have opposed a federal mandate that would give workers at some religious institutions free coverage for sterilization, contraception and abortifacient drugs.

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