Leading pro-abortion groups such as the National Organization of Women (NOW), Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America have harshly criticized President Obama’s decision to issue an executive order to reassure pro-life Democrats that there would be no federal funding for abortion.
The executive order was published by the White House minutes before Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) announced that he and his bloc of pro-life Democrats would be providing the missing votes to allow the health care bill to pass Sunday evening by a 219-212 margin.
During his press conference, Stupak noted there were only 45 votes in the Senate for his language. “We would all love to have a statute that would be stronger. We can’t get sixty votes in the Senate. The reality is we can’t do it.”
“This bill was going to go through,” Stupak said, saying he believed backers of the Senate bill had enough House votes before he and his pro-life colleagues decided to support the legislation.
To protect the sanctity of life, Stupak said, his coalition went for the “best enforceable” option and settled for the President’s executive order.
The order reads: “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with a longstanding Federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment.”
The executive order requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to draw up in six months’ time a set of guidelines which states must follow to ensure that federal funds don’t pay for abortion coverage. Any such coverage under the state insurance exchanges to be created would have to be paid for by the person insured.
Before the executive order was announced, NOW, NARAL and Planned Parenthood had felt comfortable with the language of the Senate bill.
Paradoxically, the language also received the support of Catholic organizations such as the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and NETWORK, the latter being a group of some 60 dissenting Catholics, mostly sisters from older religious congregations. They claimed it was sufficiently “pro-life.”
However, Stupak’s successful pressuring of the president to promise an executive order drew a harsh reaction from the leading pro-abortion groups on Sunday afternoon.
“We are incensed by Obama’s executive order designed to appease a handful of anti-choice Democrats who have held up health care reform in an effort to restrict women's access to abortion,” said NOW President Terry O'Neill in a statement emailed to reporters.
“Contrary to language in the draft of the executive order and repeated assertions in the news, the Hyde Amendment is not settled law -- it is an illegitimate tack-on to an annual must-pass appropriations bill. NOW has a longstanding objection to Hyde and, in fact, was looking forward to working with this president and Congress to bring an end to these restrictions. We see now that we have our work cut out for us far beyond what we ever anticipated. The message we have received today is that it is acceptable to negotiate health care on the backs of women, and we couldn't disagree more,” O’Neill said.
Following suit, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, issued a statement regretting that “a pro-choice president of a pro-choice nation was forced to sign an Executive Order that further codifies the proposed anti-choice language in the health care reform bill.”
Nevertheless, Richards rejoiced at the fact that the president's executive order did not include what she called “the complete and total ban on private health insurance coverage for abortion that Congressman Bart Stupak had insisted upon.”
Pro-Obama groups such as Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have also objected to the abortion funding restrictions on subsidized health insurance plans.
“So while we regret that this proposed Executive Order has given the imprimatur of the president to Senator Nelson's language, we are grateful that it does not include the Stupak abortion ban,” Richards continued.
Catholics United has agreed with Planned Parenthood’s argument that Stupak’s restrictions went “too far,” but that language was backed by the U.S. bishops and other pro-life groups.
In its statement on the executive order, NARAL said “on a day when Americans are expected to see passage of legislation that will make health care more affordable for more than 30 million citizens, 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. Today's action is a stark reminder of why we must repeal this unfair and insulting policy. Achieving this goal means increasing the number of lawmakers in Congress who share our pro-choice values. Otherwise, we will continue to see women's reproductive rights used as a bargaining chip.”
During the press conference announcing his last hour support for the bill, Stupak said: “the statutory language, we’d love to have it. But we can’t get it through the Senate. And we’re not giving up. If there was something we missed, we’re coming back with legislative fixes. These right-to-life Democrats, who really carried the right-to-life ball throughout this whole debate, we will continue to do that. We will work with our colleagues to get the job done.”
Stupak’s leadership has been praised by several media commentators as a turning point in the Democratic Party.
Commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said on MSNBC that the executive order looks like “a tremendous victory” for Stupak and other pro-life leaders.
“For Democrats to have a strong pro-life contingent, which fights inside that party, and then comes out with a victory, I think helps the party because Democrats are known as a pro-choice party,” he explained.
Another MSNBC commentator remarked that Stupak's actions present a “very high profile” and a “new sound” for pro-life Democrats.
Nevertheless, according to Richard Doerflinger, Stupak’s deal will be useless in defending life.
“The statutory mandate construed by the courts would override any executive order or regulation … Only a change in the law enacted by Congress, not an executive order, can begin to address this very serious problem in the legislation."
Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser announced that the organization had been planning to honor Rep. Stupak at its third annual Campaign for Life Gala on Wednesday for “his efforts to keep abortion-funding out of health care reform.”
“We will no longer be doing so. By accepting this deal from the most pro-abortion President in American history, Stupak has not only failed to stand strong for unborn children, but also for his constituents and pro-life voters across the country,” Dannenfelser charged. “Courts could and have a history of trumping executive orders.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that “by offering an executive order as a so-called solution, President Obama is finally admitting there is a problem with a bill that will force taxpayers to pay for elective abortions for the first time in over three decades. However, there is no way that an executive order will protect the unborn or prevent the greatest expansion of elective abortion since Roe v. Wade.”
"President Obama and the Democratic leadership know that such a plan, due to legal precedent, will be worth little in the long run. Court rulings in cases such as Commerce of U.S. v Reich and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld make it very clear that such an executive order likely wouldn't survive," Perkins added.