Update at bottom: 'Chagrined' GOP chair ends abortion insurance for employees

The health insurance plan offered to employees of the Republican National Committee includes coverage for elective abortions, a fact that could compromise the party's insistence that abortion be left out of any health care reform measure.

Since 1991, the RNC -- the group that co-ordinates Republican activities at the national level -- has been on a health insurance plan from insurer Cigna that offers elective abortion coverage, and the RNC signed up for the coverage even though it was an optional part of the package, says a report at Politico.

According to several Cigna employees, the insurer offers its customers the opportunity to opt out of abortion coverage – and the RNC did not choose to opt out.

Cigna spokesman Chris Curran declined to discuss the specifics of the RNC’s plan, saying it’s against company policy to reveal even the identities of its insured. But he said that Cigna’s products “are designed to meet the requirements of our individual employer clients. Employer clients are informed of the services covered and it is their choice to decide which benefits meet their needs.”

There is no indication that any RNC employee has used the abortion coverage....

The revelation comes less than a week after the US House of Representatives passed a health reform bill that included an amendment blocking abortion from being covered under the health reform plan.

Pro-choice groups are sounding the alarm about the Stupak amendment, saying that it could restrict access to abortions even for people who are not on any public option insurance plan, because the amendment bars any insurance companies that participate in the health insurance exchange program from offering abortions, except in cases of incest or rape, or when the mother's health is in danger.

The amendment was proposed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and House Democratic leaders determined they had to allow the amendment into the health reform bill in order to garner the votes needed from conservative Democrats to pass the bill.

The Stupak amendment has caused outrage among women's-rights groups.

"The Stupak-Pitts amendment is a giant leap in the direction of making abortion completely inaccessible to all of us," said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization of Women.

Some political observers have suggested that the amendment could be a deal-breaker for health reform in Congress.

"The Stupak-Pitts Amendment, barring private and public health insurance plans from offering abortions as part of basic coverage if they accept government subsidies, risks sinking the fragile health bill passed Saturday," writes Yana Kunichoff at Truthout.org. "President Obama and numerous Democrats say they will not support its passage with the amendment included."

Almost as soon as Republican spokespeople got wind of the Politico story, it appears they began to back-track and hint at changes to their health insurance plans.

“The current policy has been in effect since 1991, and we are taking steps to address the issue,” RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho told the news service.

The Republican Party's official policy on abortion states that life begins at conception. The party in principle supports a Constitutional amendment that would ban abortion.

But GOP Chairman Michael Steele, who is presumably covered by the Cigna health plan, has expressed views that are more centrist than the GOP's general position. While he describes himself as "pro-life," he has has said that he views abortion as an "individual choice" and has also voiced support for the funding of some types of stem-cell research.

'Chagrined' GOP chair ends abortion insurance for employees

Even though his own views towards abortion have moderated over the years, RNC chair Michael Steele didn't waste any time taking care of the latest Republican albatross.

"A chagrined GOP Chairman Michael Steele has told Republican National Committee staff to immediately stop providing RNC employees with insurance for elective abortions — an option that Republicans strongly oppose as Democrats try to pass a health care overhaul bill," the Associated Press reports.

"Money from our loyal donors should not be used for this purpose," Steele said in a statement released late Thursday. "I don't know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled."

Steele faced widespread criticism earlier this year after he called abortion an "individual choice." He later "walked it back," as Politico's Ben Smith noted, by claiming that "I am pro-life, always have been, always will be."