Workers who belong to one of the federal health plans that offer coverage for therapeutic (elective) abortions will be able to have government-paid abortions this year despite administration attempts to limit coverage to situations where the mother's life is in danger.

In the final hours of the lame-duck Congress, legislators and lobbyists favoring unrestricted abortions got weary Senate-House conferees to drop language in the continuing resolution that would have barred nonemergency abortions this year from the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).

That stopgap funding bill allows agencies without approved budgets to operate through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.

The FEHB--which covers nearly half the people in metropolitan Washington--paid $116 million for 17,000 abortions in 1981, the last year for which figures are available.

Beginning that year, the Office of Personnel Management attempted to eliminate nonemergency abortions from the FEHBP as part of a program to reduce benefits, and thereby cut costs to the government. Uncle Sam pays anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of his employes' health insurance premiums.

Nationwide, more than 9.2 million federal employes, family members and retirees are covered by the FEHBP, the nation's biggest group insurance plan. Despite cost-cutting attempts, premiums jumped an average 31 percent last year and rose 24 percent this January.

In the effort to cut costs--and in response to congressional and administration pressure--many of the 130-plus plans in the FEHB have dropped nonemergency abortion benefits in the last several years.

However, at least six union-backed FEHBP plans (the American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, National Federation of Federal Employees, American Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers, Rural Letter Carriers) plus a number of health maintenance organizations still offer abortion coverage.

But language added to the continuing resolution last year by key Senate and House committees would have banned nonemergency abortion payments by the FEHBP starting this month.

Congress-watchers say that AFGE lobbyist Kim Parker followed the antiabortion rider through the Senate and House, finding friends on various conference committees who struck the antiabortion language from the final version of the resolution that passed just before Christmas.

What it all means is that plansthat offered benefits for therapeutic abortions this year will now be able to honor those benefits.