- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In a ceremony closed to press coverage, President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order restating the nation’s long-standing ban on federal funding for abortion, fulfilling a promise to a group of pro-life House Democrats led by Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak who withheld their support for Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul until the final hours before the vote Sunday.

Mr. Stupak and several other pro-life Democrats were present at the event. The private event was in stark contrast the previous day’s jubilant public bill-signing ceremony attended by Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and top Democratic lawmakers in the East Room.

Though White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the abortion-funding order merely “maintains the status quo,” Mr. Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, and several of his colleagues said the move was necessary to ensure that the health care law would not fund abortions with taxpayer dollars. House leaders likely would not have had the votes to pass the overhaul without the support of Mr. Stupak and his allies.

The order drew sharp criticism from pro-choice lawmakers as well as leading pro-life groups. Republicans derided it as a “phony order” and took aim at the political expediency of the eleventh-hour deal struck between Mr. Obama and Mr. Stupak.

It is a transparent attempt to provide political cover to Washington Democrats who betrayed their constituents by voting to allow taxpayer-funded abortion in the United States for the first time in 30 years,” House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, said. “It is telling that President Obama is signing this executive order behind closed doors, unwilling to face questions from reporters or the public. He clearly hopes to sweep this issue under the rug. But the American people will take notice, and they will not forget.

At the other end of the spectrum, Planned Parenthood said it was disappointed with Mr. Obama, who is pro-choice, but said the language in the order was preferable to a stricter amendment that Mr. Stupak had attached to the original House-passed version of the bill.

“We regret 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,” the group said in a statement.

Faced with several questions about the secretive nature of the signing, Mr. Gibbs told reporters at Wednesday’s regular briefing, “You will have a lovely picture from Pete,” referring to official White House photographer Pete Souza.

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