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Obama’s order no help, pro-lifers say

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama’s March 24 signing of an executive order related to federal funding of abortion did nothing to placate pro-life opponents of a new health-care law.

One day after he signed the controversial health-care reform measure, the president issued an executive order the White House said would apply longstanding restrictions on government support of abortion to the new law.

The signing of the order contrasted sharply with that of the health-care legislation. Whereas the March 23 signing of the bill into law came before a packed East Room of cheering supporters, Obama endorsed the executive order with 14 congressional Democrats and no reporters gathered in the oval office.

The order, nearly all pro-life organizations say, does little to prevent federal money under the legislation from being used to fund abortions or subsidize insurance plans that cover abortions. It addresses only a couple of the provisions of concern for pro-lifers, and it does at least one of those inadequately, according to the legal pro-life organization Americans United for Life.

Federal courts are almost assured of ruling in favor of the language in the law, not in the executive order, pro-lifers say. In addition, Obama, or any other president, could rescind the order at any time.

“The executive order does not carry the force of law,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This is why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made it clear that the executive order did not ‘begin to address the problem’ of protecting the unborn. And the reason is simple: The courts have made it clear that an executive order does not stand up to laws passed by Congress. We have over four decades of federal courts mandating that abortion is required in federal health-care programs unless Congress clearly forbids such funding.”

An amendment sponsored by Reps. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., and Joseph Pitts, R.-Pa., extended the current restrictions on federal funding of abortion to the health-care legislation. The House of Representatives approved that amendment as part of the bill it passed in November. The Senate version that returned to the House and gained narrow passage March 21 did not.

“The Stupak-Pitts amendment would have” forbidden federal funding of abortion, Land told Baptist Press March 25. “President Obama’s executive order does not.”

Land pointed to the failure of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America to offer meaningful criticism of the executive order. Planned Parenthood is the country’s leading abortion provider. Its affiliates performed more than 305,000 abortions in the last year for which statistics are available.

Why has Planned Parenthood been relatively quiet?, Land asked, before answering: “Because they know that [the executive order] will be trumped by the federal courts. Planned Parenthood is already looking for a woman who will go to a federally funded clinic and ask for an abortion and, if she is refused, will go into court, and the executive order will be stricken down.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a written statement after Obama signed the order, “The White House was right to keep the event low-key because the signing doesn’t change anything. The order is, as Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards pointed out, ‘a symbolic gesture’ that has absolutely no bearing on what the legislation does and does not fund.”

Stupak, who led a half-dozen other Democrats who agreed to sign the health-care bill after Obama promised the executive order, attended the signing ceremony in the oval office and continued to defend the document.

“This Executive Order protects the sanctity of life,” Stupak said in a written release after the signing.

“Today’s signing was the culmination of many months of hard work to pass legislation that provided our nation with much-needed health care reform while protecting the sanctity of life,” he said.

Land said, “Congressman Stupak and his pro-life Democrat colleagues, who did provide the critical margin of victory for ObamaCare, have traded their pro-life heritage for a mess of pottage, and the pottage will soon be turned over.”

The decision by the small group of Democrats who identify themselves as pro-life to support the health-care bill has continued to cost them with organizations who previously had supported them.

The Right to Life of Michigan Political Action Committee announced March 24 it had rescinded its endorsement of Stupak in his re-election campaign. The West Virginians for Life PAC said March 22 it would oppose the re-election of Reps. Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall in November.

The House approved the Senate version of health-care reform in a 219-212 vote. Thirty-four Democrats joined all 178 Republicans in voting against the measure.

Many pro-life advocates say the new law could 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 a man or elderly woman — must pay a separate fee to cover abortion, in addition to his or her premium.

The law also appropriates $7 billion to the country’s 1,200-plus community health centers without stipulating the money cannot be used for abortions, pro-life organizations say. Politifact.com — an independent fact-checking website — said that while none of the community health centers currently perform abortions, it is theoretically possible they could do so under the bill’s language.

“If you focus on the technical possibilities — which is an entirely legitimate thing to do — who can say whether a court might rule that without a specific prohibition, abortions could be permitted?” the website asked.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.