WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives barely passed a controversial health-care bill Sunday, deeply disappointing pro-life Americans who hoped a small group of Democrats would block legislation they say will permit federal funding of abortion and likely increase the rate of the procedure.
With only Democrats voting in favor, the House approved a Senate version of health-care reform in a 219-212 vote late in the night. Thirty-four Democrats joined all 178 Republicans in voting against the measure.
The Democrats followed passage of the Senate bill by turning back a Republican procedural move that would have included the insertion of pro-life language and by approving a reconciliation bill that incorporated “fixes” to the legislation they had just passed.
President Obama is scheduled to sign the Senate bill into law Tuesday. The Senate still must approve the reconciliation measure, which, if changed, will return to the House for approval before going to the president.
The clinching votes for the massive health-care measure, which is expected to cost — when combined with the reconciliation bill — $940 billion over 10 years, were assured earlier in the day. It was announced Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, who had led the pro-life Democrats’ effort to prevent abortion funding in the bill, and six allies, according to The Washington Post, agreed to a proposed executive order to be issued by Obama after he signs the bill.
The Senate bill “maintains current law,” but the pending order “provides additional safeguards to ensure” the longstanding ban on federal funding of abortion is enforced, the White House said. Stupak said in a written release the order “upholds the principle that federal funds should not be used to subsidize abortion coverage.”
Pro-life advocates inside and outside the House, however, denied the Senate bill prohibits taxpayer support for abortion and rejected the proposed executive order as ineffective. They pointed out the president could rescind his order at any time and contended the federal courts would rule in favor of the language in the law, not in the executive order. Some also expressed deep disappointment in Stupak.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said pro-life Americans “are rightly both chagrined and disillusioned” with Stupak’s action.
“Pro-lifers are justified in their outrage, since it was apparently Stupak and his Democratic pro-life coalition that provided the margin of victory for ObamaCare,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Stupak’s “pathetic defense that President Obama’s executive order sufficiently protects the unborn in this new legislation strains credulity. It’s equivalent to saying that a bikini can cover the fat lady in the circus. The executive order is insufficient and does not carry the force of law equivalent to the legislation.”
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) said the pending Obama order “changes nothing. It does not correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill. The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says.”
The executive order also does not correct the newly passed bill’s lack of protection for the conscience rights of pro-life health-care workers, according to NRLC.
Stupak and pro-life Republican Rep. Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania faced off in floor debate after the House approved the Senate-passed legislation. They had worked together in November to sponsor an amendment that barred federal funds from being used to pay for abortions or to subsidize abortion coverage. The House approved that pro-life amendment, which enabled passage of the overall bill last year. The Senate, however, refused to include the Stupak-Pitts language when it took up the House version.
Obama’s promised executive order is “full of loopholes,” Pitts said in urging passage of a motion to recommit the bill to a committee with instructions to include the Stupak-Pitts language.
“The Senate bill departs from long-standing current policy and achieves the exact opposite effect of current law, and an executive order promised by the president will not change these facts,” Pitts said. “An executive order does not trump a statute, and the courts undoubtedly will look to the legislative text to interpret the law. Moreover, the promised order fails to even correct the egregious pro-life concerns contained in this bill…. The abortion rate will rise, and more unborn lives will be lost.”
With Democrats applauding him, Stupak spoke against the effort to recommit and to include the language he originally championed.
“The motion to recommit purports to be a right-to-life motion in the spirit of the Stupak amendment, but as the author of the Stupak amendment, this motion is nothing more than an opportunity to continue to deny 32 million Americans health care,” Stupak said. “[T]his motion does not promote life…. It is Democrats through the president’s executive order that assure the sanctity of life is protected, because all life is precious and all life should be honored. For the unborn child, his or her mother will finally have pre- and post-natal care under our bill…. For the Republicans to now claim that we send the bill back to committee under the guise of protecting life is disingenuous. This motion really is to politicize life, not prioritize life.”
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland urged rejection of the Republicans’ motion to recommit, saying the Senate would not support it and the GOP is “indirectly trying to kill this bill.”
Democrats defeated the motion 232-199, with 21 members of their party joining the Republicans in support.
The House then approved the reconciliation bill of amendments in a 220-211 roll call. This time, 33 Democrats voted with the GOP in opposition.
Pro-life advocates say the version approved by senators in December and by representatives March 21 could dramatically increase the number of abortions. It permits the funding of insurance plans that cover elective abortions, reversing a long-standing federal policy. Congress’ own insurance plans, for example, cannot cover abortions. The bill requires that anyone who has a plan that covers abortion — even men and elderly women — must pay a separate fee to cover abortion, in addition to their premium.
The legislation also appropriates $7 billion to the country’s 1,200-plus community health centers without stipulating the money cannot be used for elective abortions, pro-life organizations say. Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider, supported the bill and argued it would “significantly increase access to reproductive health care.”
During a press conference, Stupak said the executive order would ensure that federal dollars don’t go toward funding elective abortions at community health centers. Stupak also said the order would strengthen conscience protections for health care workers.
Two pro-life organizations already have responded to Stupak’s action with penalties. The Susan B. Anthony List announced it would no longer present him with a “Defender of Life” award it had planned to give him March 24. CatholicVote.com said it had rescinded its invitation for Stupak to speak at an April meeting.
Land said House passage of legislation disfavored by so many Americans would result in a “tsunami-size voter backlash” in the November election.
“A majority of Americans are enraged that their elected representatives would so callously disregard their expressed convictions and pass legislation a majority of the populace clearly does not want,” he said.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article.