Wednesday March 24, 2010

President Signs Stupak’s Executive Order in Private Ceremony

By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 24, 2010 ( – On Wednesday afternoon President Barack Obama signed the promised executive order that had secured the health care votes of Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and a half-dozen pro-life Democrats. Unlike the signing of the health care reform bill itself, the executive order signing took place in a private ceremony in the Oval Office without reporters or television cameras.

Stupak and twelve other Democrat colleagues attended, as well as Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), who co-authored the Senate health bill’s restrictions on abortion funding with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

The text of the executive order, which has been universally condemned by pro-life groups as inadequate, purportedly strengthens the statutory provisions against abortion contained in the recently signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in conformity with the Hyde Amendment.

However, Charmaine Yoest, President of Americans United for Life, denounced the executive order, observing that, “Once again, the proposal to address the problem of abortion funding in the health care bill through use of an executive order is a tacit acknowledgement that the bill as it stands is pro-abortion legislation.”

Yoest said AUL’s legal team had concluded the executive order was not an “adequate fix” to the Senate bill, one of the reasons being the order “cannot prevent insurance companies that pay for abortions in the exchanges from receiving federal subsidies.”

The pro-life leader pointed out that an executive order can be revoked at any time, and said that this fact “coupled with the Administration’s repeated endorsement of the pro-abortion lobby’s agenda, force any reasonable person to conclude that this bill will clearly create the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion in American history.”

According to Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, Obama’s executive order “basically just recites what’s in the Senate bill.”

The president’s order instructs government agencies “to establish a comprehensive, government-wide set of policies and procedures” within 180 days that would make sure that federal funds are segregated from abortion services, except in the cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. It also requires federal agencies to develop guidelines for state health insurance commissioners to help them conduct audits and determine whether health exchange plans are complying with the law’s requirements that the funds from federal subsidies be segregated from funds allocated for abortion coverage.

The President’s order also states that the Community Health Center Fund established within the Department of Health and Human Services for the new community health center program also falls under Hyde Amendment restrictions. Under the new health care reform, the section pertaining to the Community Health Center fund fails to specify that the Hyde Amendment restrictions apply.

Although the deal clinched the vote of Stupak and his half-dozen remaining pro-life Democrats opposed to the Senate bill, pro-life groups charge that the executive order does little to change the Senate bill, and is quite different from the airtight abortion-funding restrictions that Stupak and a bipartisan coalition of pro-life legislators had fought for on Capitol Hill for approximately nine months.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment, which had passed by a margin of 240-194 in the House’s version of health care reform back in November, specified: “No funds authorized or appropriated by this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion” except in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother was in danger of death as certified by a physician.

The amendment would have allowed women to seek out supplemental insurance coverage for abortions.

The Nelson-Casey Amendment in the Senate allows federal subsidies to go to insurance companies that provide for abortions, but provides that they segregate the funds and make sure they do not directly go to support abortions. However the federal dollars in effect will financially support health plans that do offer abortions – a situation which Rep. Stupak and his colleague Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) had fought to rectify.

Although the Hyde Amendment will be applied specifically to community health centers under President Obama’s executive order, the Hyde Amendment itself is not permanent legislation. Instead it is an “appropriations rider” for the Department of Health and Human Services, which has to be renewed every year. If Congress does not renew Hyde, then nothing in the new health care legislation or the executive order would stand in the way of CHCs servicing abortion on demand.

National pro-life organizations, the US Catholic Bishops, and Planned Parenthood agree that the executive order does nothing to change the abortion funding provisions in the Senate bill, which became law in a very public signing ceremony on Tuesday.

Rep. Pitts, who co-authored the amendment on which Stupak had stood firm until hours before the health care vote, said he felt Stupak had been “snookered” by the White House into voting for the bill. Pitts told Lancaster’s Intelligencer Journal that the president had a track record and he did not understand how Stupak could trust him – alluding to the President’s first act as president, which was to revoke the Mexico City Policy prohibiting US dollars from supporting abortion overseas.

“I am a friend, and everything he stood for for 30 years he’s destroyed,” Pitts said. “I’ll certainly be friendly, but you can’t depend on somebody who collapses like that.”