Policy-ish

Abortion Ban In Federal Workers' Insurance May Foreshadow Overhaul Outcome

So far, the fight over the abortion ban language attached to the House health overhaul bill has mostly centered around "what ifs." But now the complex stories of federal workers affected by a similar ban implemented by Republicans over a decade ago are surfacing.

Take D.J. Feldman, a 41-year-old federal employee from around Washington, DC. She became pregnant in 2008 with a baby she very much wanted. But three months later, her fetus was diagnosed with anencephaly, essentially a lack of most of the brain, skull, or scalp. Such profound defects prevent the affected babies from ever attaining consciousness; most are stillborn.

Feldman's doctor told her she needed to end the pregnancy. "There was no doubt in her mind that this was medically necessary," Feldman said of her doctor's advice. So Feldman went to a local hospital and had the abortion.

But six weeks later, she was shocked when she received letters from her insurance company, denying coverage for the procedure. "They surely couldn't have expected me to carry a non-viable pregnancy to term," she said.

Her case, presented at a press conference by the Center for Reproductive Rights today, is the sort that worries advocates for women's right to choose. They say cases like Feldman's could become far more common if the language passed by the House becomes law.

The part that concerns them most would ban private insurance plans in the new health insurance marketplaces called "exchanges" from offering abortion as a benefit if women buying that coverage receive federal subsidies.

Backers of the ban say it would merely extend the decades-long policy of not using taxpayer funds to subsidize abortion. But abortion rights groups say it could deprive women, like those in Feldman's situation, of insurance coverage they need.

We've been here before. In 1995, the first year Republicans controlled the Congress after 40 years in the minority, the GOP banned abortion coverage in the Federal Employee Health Benefits plan, which provides insurance to some 9 million federal workers and their families.

The only exceptions to the ban allowed were for rape, incest, or when the life of the pregnant woman was endangered. Then-President Clinton signed the bill, although he opposed the ban, and it has been renewed each year since.

Many federal workers, however, were unaware of the change, including Feldman. She appealed the coverage denial, to no avail. "A few months later I got a letter back from my insurance carrier saying thank you very much. We saw that your baby was diagnosed with anencephaly. Our medical experts determined that you could have carried to term, because your life was not in danger. And by the way, you owe $9,000."

You can hear Feldman tell her story here:

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