Fight the Long-Running FEHBP Abortion Ban, Gender Equity Group Urges House Democrats
The Department of Justice Gender Equality Network said the Hyde amendment unfairly makes women’s health care decisions more costly and traumatic, even when covered by exceptions in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother.
A federal employee group within the Justice Department on Wednesday called on House Democrats to fight to eliminate a long-running ban on federal funds being spent on abortion services, citing the negative impact the policy has on federal workers.
The Hyde amendment, a policy rider included in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill for most of the last 40 years, prevents federal funds from being used on abortion services. For federal employees, that means that those services are not covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, except in cases of rape, incest or when a pregnancy endangers the life of the mother.
As a House subcommittee prepares to release and deliberate over the appropriations bill, members of the Department of Justice Gender Equality Network, an association of around 1,300 employees, called on Democratic appropriators in a letter Wednesday to push to end FEHBP’s ban on abortion coverage.
“Every fiscal year since 1983 except for one, Congress has denied [FEHBP] beneficiaries—including more than 2 million federal employees—the opportunity to choose a private health plan that includes comprehensive abortion coverage,” they wrote. “Instead, we must pay out of pocket unless in extreme circumstances: if our lives are in danger or if our pregnancies resulted from rape or incest. As federal employees we have learned the hard way that the government we serve denies us access to the full spectrum of health care and limits our ability to make decisions about the course of our lives.”
The organization shared an anecdote from an anonymous member, who described having to choose between paying out of pocket for an abortion or carrying to term a fetus with a condition that was “incompatible with life.”
”The doctor explained that my pregnancy would either result in a late stillbirth or the death of my son within days after being born, during which time he would be in pain and would be unable to eat, breathe or regulate his body temperature on his own,” she wrote. “My doctor advised me to call my insurance company to help assess my options. I did so and listened in disbelief as the insurance company explained that terminating my pregnancy, which would save the baby from a short life filled only with pain or myself from having to go through labor to manage a stillbirth, would not be covered by my federal insurance plan . . . The worst day of my life was made more traumatic by being told that I would not be supported if I made the incredibly difficult decision to terminate my pregnancy, which I viewed as the only way to protect the fetus from a very short life of pain.”
The employee group also highlighted the mounting out-of-pocket costs of seeking abortion care, ranging from $550 to around $1,700, depending on gestation. And the costs become even higher if a federal worker lives in a state where abortion has been banned or otherwise restricted following the end of Roe v. Wade and must travel to another jurisdiction to receive care.
Ultimately, the Hyde amendment could negatively impact federal agencies’ ability to recruit and retain qualified employees, the organization argued.
“Denying federal employees insurance coverage for abortion care also puts the government out of step with the private sector, where the vast majority of insured employees work for an employer that includes abortion coverage in some or all cases,” the letter states. “This disparity hinders the government’s efforts to recruit and retain talented employees. We urge Congress to demonstrate its commitment to federal civil servants by finally ending the exclusion of abortion coverage from our health care plans.”