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DHHS limits abortion funding for new high-risk insurance pools

The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) [official website] has announced [press release] that insurance plans being offered as part of a new federally-funded program providing insurance to persons denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions will only cover abortions [JURIST news archive] in cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the mother is in danger. The announcement. made last week, came as states have begun accepting applications for the Pre-Existing Insurance Plan (PCIP) [official website], a key component of the recently passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [HR 3590 materials; JURIST report], which will allow people who have been denied insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions to purchase coverage at the same rate as those without pre-existing conditions. The program will be administered by the states. Controversy arose over the issue after New Mexico and Pennsylvania initially announced that elective abortions would be funded [AP report] under their states' high-risk plans. In a press release the DHHS emphasized that an executive order [text], signed by President Barack Obama [official website] after the passage of the health care reform bill, prohibits federal funding of abortions at both the state and federal level effectively prohibiting PCIPs from covering elective abortions. Pro-life advocates welcomed the statement from the DHHS [CNA/EWTN report], but urged Congress to take more permanent steps to ensure that federal funds will not be spent on abortions. The pro-choice advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America (NARAL) [advocacy website] called the decision "inexplicable" [press release], stating that it was unacceptable to classify abortion differently than other standard medical procedures.

Abortion remains a controversial issue at both the state and federal levels. Last week, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Nebraska [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [order, PDF; JURIST report] preventing a new Nebraska abortion law [LB 594 materials] from being enforced. The law would require physicians to evaluate the mental health of the woman seeking the abortion and to inform the patient of all risk factors and complications [LB 594 text] statistically associated with the procedure. Last month, Florida Governor Charlie Crist [official website] vetoed a bill [JURIST report] that would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound or listen to a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure would be performed. In May, Oklahoma lawmakers approved a bill [JURIST report] requiring women seeking an abortion to complete a questionnaire containing information on marital status, reason for seeking the abortion and whether the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In April, the Nebraska legislature approved a bill prohibiting abortions at or past 20 weeks [JURIST report] on the theory that a fetus can allegedly feel pain following that point. Advocacy groups have criticized the laws and indicated they will challenge them in court.

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