Away from the Cameras, President Obama to Sign Executive Order on Abortion

Later today President Obama will sign an executive order underlining that federal funds in the health care reform law cannot be spent on abortion or abortion-related services except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk.

Unlike yesterday’s bill-signing celebrations in the East Room and the Department of the Interior, the president will sign this executive action behind closed doors, with nary a camera present. No reporters allowed. No member of the media permitted to attend to record the moment for history.

The executive order was announced on Sunday after it became clear that a small but significant group of anti-abortion House Democrats would not vote for the Senate health care reform bill unless they were given additional assurances that the bill would not fund abortions or abortion services.

This group, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., had successfully pushed the House to adopt a measure banning any insurance programs offered through Health Insurance Exchanges offering abortions or abortion-related services. The Senate provision allowed insurance companies to offer abortion services, but consumers had to pay for that coverage separately and the insurance companies had to keep those funds distinctly segregated.

The executive order states that it “is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services… consistent with a longstanding Federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment.” The bill would extend Hyde amendment restrictions to the health insurance exchanges, prohibit “ the use of tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments to pay for abortion services,” require administration officials to establish a “model set of segregation guidelines for state health insurance commissioners to use when determining whether exchange plans are complying with the Act’s segregation requirements.”

The order also states that the Hyde Amendment applies to the new Community Health Center (CHC) Fund within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate have voiced opposition to the executive order.

The National Right to Life Committee has said the executive order will do little to change a number of provisions in the bill “that predictably will result in federal subsidies for private insurance plans that cover abortion (some of which will be administered directly by the federal government), direct federal funding of abortion through Community Health Centers, and pro-abortion federal administrative mandates," the letter says. The NRLC argues that an executive order cannot override the loopholes in the legislation.

Stupak told Slate’s John Dickerson that while some abortion opponents “say this piece of paper isn't worth it, but I would remind them that in 2007, when George W. Bush signed the executive order to prevent stem-cell research, these groups that are criticizing it, they applauded it, they welcomed it; and now President Obama's going to sign an executive order once again protecting life and somehow it's not worth the paper it's written on. You can't have it both ways."

"I really have to wonder, these groups who now say this wasn't good enough, were they really interested in protecting life or were they just trying to politicize the life issue to defeat health care?” Stupak asked. “ I'm really disappointed in some of these groups that I've worked with for a long time."

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that “ it is deeply disappointing that Bart Stupak and other anti-choice politicians would demand the restatement of the Hyde amendment, a discriminatory law that blocks low-income women from receiving full reproductive-health care.”

Politifact wrote that Stupak is right in asserting currently that the no federal funds will go to abortion or abortion services, but the fact-checkers said that would have been the situation with the Senate language, even without the executive order.

Here’s our GMA report on the latest in the health care reform battles:


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