HARRISBURG- The Pennsylvania Senate today passed legislation to prohibit insurance companies from offering coverage of abortion care when they participate in the insurance exchanges created by the federal healthcare reform law. The vote comes on the heels of a vote last month in the state House to implement burdensome guidelines on abortion clinics, and both issues have the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

"It's now clear that restricting women's access to reproductive healthcare is a major priority of this legislature," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which opposes both bills. "Forget about Pennsylvanians who are out of work, out of healthcare, and out on the streets. Abortion is a high priority for the General Assembly, maybe the highest priority."

The federal healthcare reform law will create exchanges, or marketplaces, administered by the states in which uninsured customers can purchase policies from participating companies. The federal law prohibits abortion coverage for customers who purchase insurance with government subsidies but leaves the door open for abortion coverage when a customer pays with her own money.

Senate Bill 3, however, also bans insurance coverage of abortion care when the customer purchases the policy with private funds. Currently, most insurance plans nationwide cover abortion care.

"Obviously, free market principles go out the window when it comes to abortion," Hoover said. "Legislators complain about a government takeover of healthcare but have no qualms about the government taking over women's reproductive healthcare."

The insurance exchange is scheduled to begin in 2014. Pennsylvania has yet to create the infrastructure for administering the exchange.

SB 3 now heads to the state House for consideration.