WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is weighing whether to delay a requirement that states help pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest, because the directive has placed some states in the untenable position of either violating their own laws or losing federal Medicaid funds, according to officials.
"They set these states up to be sued," said Ray Hanley, head of the Arkansas Medicaid program and chairman of the State Medicaid Directors Association.
The controversy arose from a debate over what Congress intended last year when it loosened the ban on federal funding for abortions in cases of rape and incest. Previously, federal Medicaid funds -- which must be partially matched by states -- had been provided only in cases where a woman's life was threatened.
In a directive last week, the administration said it now deems abortions in rape and incest cases as "medically necessary," meaning states must pay for them from Medicaid funds.
Medicaid, a program providing medical services for the poor, receives half of its funds from the federal government, but is administered by the states.
In a letter to the federal Health Care Financing Administration, Mr. Hanley contended that the administration directive had gone beyond the intent of Congress -- which he insisted was merely to give states the option of paying for abortions for low-income rape and incest victims.
At least 10 states, including the president's home state of Arkansas, would have to change their laws to implement the administration order, Mr. Hanley said.
Sally K. Richardson, director of the federal Health Care Financing Administration's Medicaid Bureau, said in an interview yesterday that the administration is "considering what the options are" in light of the bind some states would face.
However, she insisted that it is not unusual for states to have to adjust their own laws to bring them into federal compliance.
The administration initially gave states until March 31 to assure that their Medicaid programs did not prohibit funding of abortion in cases of rape and incest.