As Congress heads into budget markup season, a group of 1,300 employees within the U.S. Department of Justice is urging lawmakers to oppose the ban on abortion coverage in federal health insurance plans.
The DOJ Gender Equality Network sent a letter Wednesday to democratic members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government saying federal employees have learned “the hard way” that the government they work for denies them “access to the full spectrum of health care.”
“Everyone, including federal employees, deserves the right to live safe, healthy lives and to be free to define our own paths,” Jen Swedish, a leader of DOJ GEN’s abortion access working group, told Federal Times. “We’re asking Congress to demonstrate its commitment to the civilian workforce by covering the full spectrum of health care, including abortion.”
Such bans been included in annual spending bills nearly every year for decades, Federal Times previously reported. For civil servants in particular, the massive Financial Services-General Government appropriations bill, which funds two of the three branches of the federal government, has barred abortion coverage in the FEHB program except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. The Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports reproductive health, estimates this affects roughly 335,000 FEHB beneficiaries.
Federal employees have said these bans are incongruous with private sector companies that began offering benefits for employees who travel out-of-state for abortion services following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24.
“This disparity hinders the government’s efforts to recruit and retain talented employees,” DOJ GEN’s letter said.
Some federal employees have indicated that lacking coverage for a variety of medical treatments, like abortion and in vitro fertilization, weighs in their decisions about whether to pursue a career outside of government, according to reporting by Federal Times.
It’s still early in the budget cycle, in which the current step is markup hearings by appropriations subcommittees that each work through funding for different government priorities, like defense, transportation or energy. Each committee comes up with versions of a bill that can pass both chambers.
For abortion to be covered under the FEHB program, one scenario may involve Democrats proposing an amendment to strike the ban from the House’s base bill, if it includes the ban.
With Republicans controlling the House and having in previous years vowed to vote down any measure that “eliminates or weakens ... current-law, pro-life appropriations provisions,” it’s a reasonable assumption that their bill will keep abortion restrictions intact for many federally funded health care programs, including FEHB.
Another possibility is that Senate Democrats will put forth their version of the bill as the House does, and during final conference, the two sides will reconcile the differences or make concessions.
DOJ GEN, in its letter, also urged support of the the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, which would ensure abortion coverage for those enrolled in government plans like Medicaid, FEHB, and TriCare and for those who receive care from a government provider like Indian Health Services or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.