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Senate OKs contraceptive coverage; federal plan covers abortifacients

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate followed the House of Representatives’ example and voted to require coverage for contraceptives in the health plans of federal employees.
The legislation would allow coverage for what pro-life advocates describe as abortifacients, drugs or devices that end human life after conception.
The Senate measure, like that passed in the House, called for all insurance companies providing prescription drug coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to cover contraceptives. Senators adopted it by a voice vote as an amendment to the Treasury Department/Postal Service appropriations bill. The House version was attached to the same spending measure.
A conference committee will be named to work out differences after the Senate approves its version of the spending bill.
Proponents of the legislation cited birth-control pills, diaphragms, intrauterine devices, Norplant and Depo-Provera — some of which may act to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the lining of the uterus — as the five leading prescription contraceptives. Increased doses of birth-control pills after sexual intercourse also are used to prevent implantation. Some opponents of the measure fear RU 486, the French abortion pill, would be covered when the Food and Drug Administration approves it.
While a House attempt to amend the bill to exclude abortion-inducing drugs failed, no such effort was tried in the Senate.
Pro-lifers generally regard conception/fertilization as the beginning of life and believe blocking implantation is abortion. Many medical professionals agree pregnancy begins at fertilization, but the FDA defines pregnancy as not beginning before implantation.
Congress has prohibited the federal employees health program from covering abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest and a threat to the life of the mother.
The Senate version, approved July 29, expanded the conscience clause beyond the five plans named in the House bill to other plans that as a matter of religious conscience choose not to cover contraceptives.