WASHINGTON — “Under this scheme, (the government) will be paying the administrative costs,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., author of the abortion funding ban for federal employee plans. “It’s a radical deviation and departure from current federal law, and it’s not for all federal employees, but for a subset: Congress. Us.”
Smith is calling on the Obama administration to specify that lawmakers and staffers must choose a plan that does not cover abortions. The funding ban, in place since the 1980s, is known as the Smith amendment.
The personnel office refused to address the issue on the record. Instead, its media office released a generic statement, saying: “Federal law prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in the case of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered. All plans available in the marketplaces will comply with the law.”
Obama, who supports abortion rights, has said previously he does not want his health care overhaul to change existing laws on abortion.
An independent expert on the federal employee plan said abortion opponents appear to have a legitimate question, but the applicable laws are so arcane that it’s hard to tell who’s right.
“This goes into a legal thicket the complexity of which I can’t begin to fathom,” said Walton Francis, lead author of an annual guide to federal health benefits. “It would take lawyers hours to decipher the interrelationship between these statutes, and they would probably come to different conclusions.”
Abortion opponents say the longstanding ban on “administrative expenses” related to abortion coverage precludes the personnel office from dealing with health plans that cover abortion.
“To comply with the Smith amendment, they would have to advise members and congressional staff that they can only choose plans that do not cover abortions,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. “And, of course, they would have to enforce it.”