Pro-life Democrat sees flaws in executive order, urges further action

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.)
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.)


Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) remarked today that the new health care bill is “a major step in the wrong direction” in defending the unborn. Concerned that the executive order on abortion funding will likely be overturned by the courts, he reported that the order may undercut its own claims to apply Hyde language to the legislation.

He added that the bill’s problems can be corrected before its changes go into effect in 2014 and should be fixed regardless of whether President Obama’s executive order functions as promised.

Rep. Lipinski, a pro-life Democrat who voted against the legislation, told CNA in a Wednesday interview that he is concerned the legislation is “a major step in the wrong direction in regards to protecting the unborn.”

Since the beginning of the debate on the bill, he said, he had insisted that Hyde Amendment language would have to be in the bill or in another statute applicable to the bill.

“If that was not the case, no matter what the rest of the bill looked like, I could not vote for it,” he explained. “I would not accept anything less than statutory language.”

The Hyde Amendment, named after the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), has restricted most federal funding for abortions and barred elective abortion coverage from federally subsidized health insurance plans. However, it did not explicitly apply to the health care legislation.

Congressman Lipinski voiced other concerns about the bill, saying it does not reform the health care system but addresses only insurance and not the “skyrocketing” costs of health care. Its Medicare cuts could have negative consequences for seniors, and in his view, the legislation is not “fiscally sustainable.”

Nonetheless, concerns about abortion funding were a leading motive for his opposition.

“It was clear that they did not want to change that,” he told CNA, speaking of the legislation’s backers. “I spoke out a lot on that.”

Asked about the executive order which claimed to apply Hyde language to the health care legislation, Rep. Lipinski said that in his understanding the executive order will “likely be overturned, or at least there’s a chance that it’d be overturned based on precedent.”

“If a federal law requires coverage of medical services, medical services include abortion unless law specifically says abortion will not be covered,” he explained.

The order “does not really have an impact” in affecting funding going to individuals to purchase an insurance plan that covers abortion.

Asked about claims the executive order applies to the health insurance exchanges, he said section one of the order does have language saying Hyde language extends to the health insurance exchanges.

However, he is concerned about the second section’s discussion of insurance exchanges’ compliance with the prohibition on abortion funding.

“There it really talks only about separating the funds,” the Congressman told CNA. He said this policy was along the lines of previous proposals which had been dismissed by pro-life groups and members of Congress.

It purports to “segregate” federal dollars from other funds and use those other funds to pay for abortion services in the plans.

“To me, the executive order is a little confusing on that. At first it does say it will apply Hyde to health insurance exchanges, but when it actually discusses what will be done, the implication is that Hyde only deals with direct funding for abortion.

“I don’t know how that will be interpreted. I assume that the more-specific section two, which explains how Hyde will be applied, what the interpretation will be, that is what it is. Not the entire Hyde Amendment.”

While “hopeful” that the order will stand, if it does not, opponents of abortion funding “should be moving forward,” he said.

“And even if it does stand, I think we should be moving forward to put that [order] into statutory language,” he explained. “We have a new opportunity, potentially, before the exchanges go into effect in 2014. That still gives us three more years at least, before they start, to make a change in the law.”

The executive order itself was secured by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) who had led a coalition of pro-life Democrats seeking statutory restrictions on abortion funding.

Last week Rep. Stupak told CNA the order’s restrictions on abortion funding were “ironclad.” He also claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had “votes in her pocket” from other Congressmen who would have voted to pass the bill if needed. Though the final vote on the bill was 219-212, Stupak said the total available numbered 222.

CNA asked Rep. Lipinski about that estimate. He replied that Rep. Stupak was much closer to the negotiations than he was.

“I don’t want to say anything that would in any way impugn the motives of Bart Stupak,” he remarked.

“The day that all this happened, I went to Mass with Bart, I sat next to Bart that evening. I think he was trying to do what he thinks was best… He believes that this was the best that we could get on the pro-life side. And I’m not going to say that he was wrong, I’m just going to say that I had a different view of it.”

“And that’s where I’m going to leave it.”

He added that he did not like seeing “all these attacks on Bart Stupak, especially because he has been a leader.”

“And we need Bart Stupak to continue to be a leader on this pro-life issue, even or especially on this health care bill. If we are going to put in more strict federal funding [rules] on abortion, we in the pro-life movement, Democrats and Republicans, have to work together to get this done.

“Everyone’s going to have their opinion on who did the right thing. But in the end, we all need to come together and work together from here on out to help protect life.”

Congressman Lipinski explained that he is a pro-life Democrat because he believes there is an “important role” for government in helping people, especially in “protecting people in ways that no other institution can.”

“Democrats talk about protecting the individual and talk about the dignity of the individual. And because I believe life begins at conception, I believe that should cover everybody from conception throughout life to death. So I see that as being consistent with many of the other things that the Democratic Party stands for.”

While his pro-life position also originates in Catholic teaching, he said he believes it is “self-evident” from biology.

“You don’t need to be Catholic and you don’t need to come at it from a religious perspective to believe that life begins at conception and that we should protect life.”

While he has been a “target” for some people who do not think a Democrat should be pro-life, he said his Congressional district still has “a lot” of pro-life Democrats.

“I’m hopeful with the controversy that has occurred here that we do not see the pro-life movement start to fracture. I’m hopeful that members of Congress who are pro-life can stay together. No matter what anyone’s opinion is about who did or didn’t do the right thing on this vote, we all still need to work together and we are planning on getting together.”

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