5:14 PM EDT
Rosa DeLauro, D-CT 3rd

Ms. DeLAURO. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 3 1/2 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, I rise to offer a simple amendment to strike language in this bill that unfairly penalizes the hard-working people of the Federal Government. This language prohibits health plans that participate in the Federal employees health benefits program from covering abortion. By doing so, it denies access to complete reproductive health services to nearly 1.2 million women of childbearing age who depend on this health benefits program for their medical care.

Every employee in the country has the option to choose a health care plan that covers the full range of reproductive health services, including abortion. Every employee, that is, except Federal employees. Since November 1995, Federal employees have been unable to choose a health care plan which includes coverage of this legal medical procedure.

Let me make one point very clear. This amendment does not provide government or taxpayer subsidies for abortion. The health care benefit, like the salary, belongs to the employee. The employee is then free to choose from a wide range of health plans that best meet their needs and then purchase that health plan with their own money. Again, with their own money.

This amendment does not mandate that any plan provide coverage for abortion against its objection. It simply allows Federal employees to have the option to purchase for themselves or their families a plan that suits their individual needs. An individual who does not want that coverage would have the choice, again the choice, not to purchase such a health plan.

Unfortunately, under current law and language included in this bill, Federal employees are left with no choice if tragedy strikes. I have heard the stories of Federal employees who are faced with a crisis pregnancy. This decision to end the pregnancy was the hardest decision of their lives. When they believed that their health insurance companies would pay for this health procedure and later found out Congress had restricted this coverage, they were harassed by creditors and forced into a financial

battle over one of the most personal and emotional decisions that they will ever have to make.

Mr. Chairman, abortion is a legal medical procedure. That is right. No matter how many times we come to this floor and debate this issue, it remains a constitutionally protected legal medical procedure. The court just reaffirmed that a few weeks ago. Our opponents can try to chip away access to this right for young women, poor women, imprisoned women, women in the military, and in this case women who work for the Federal Government. They can write legislation that limits every nuance of this

procedure and the issues surrounding it. But they have not won. Abortion is still a legal choice for women.

Singling out abortion for exclusion from health care plans that cover other reproductive health care is harmful to women's health. The AMA has said that funding restrictions such as this one that delay or deter women from seeking early abortions make it more likely that women will continue a potentially health-threatening pregnancy to term. This is all the more true because the bill provides no exception for coverage of abortions when a woman's health or future fertility is at stake.

I urge my colleagues to give our public servants the right to choose the health care that is best for them. I ask them to support this amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.