WASHINGTON -- 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.
"Money from our loyal donors should not be used for this purpose," Steele said in a statement late Thursday after learning of the abortion coverage from a news report. "I don't know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled."
Steele instructed staff to inform the insurance carrier that the RNC wanted to opt out of elective abortion coverage, RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said. She said the policy has been in effect since 1991.
A memo earlier from RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay to the organization's members said Steele was taking the matter very seriously and "has been engaged by phone on this issue."
The GOP platform traditionally includes strong anti-abortion language. All House Republicans, except one, voted for an amendment imposing restrictions of coverage for abortions in the health care bill that passed the House last Saturday. Inclusion of the abortion restrictions prompted an angry backlash from liberal House Democrats, and some are now threatening to vote against a final bill if the curbs stay in.
The memo said the RNC received a phone call from a reporter on Wednesday asking whether the RNC's health care policy, through Cigna, covered elective abortions for employees. On Thursday, Politico.com published a report citing two sales agents for Cigna who said the RNC's policy covered elective abortion.
The Cigna employees said the RNC didn't choose to opt out of abortion coverage when given the opportunity, Politico.com reported.
"Upon learning of this story, at the chairman's direction, we immediately contacted the Executive Committee," the RNC memo said. "We will be scheduling a call with the Executive Committee in the immediate future to discuss this matter more fully."
The memo said the RNC health insurance policy has been in review for some time.
"Chairman Steele had already called for an official review of our health insurance policy along with a number of other operational items," the memo said.