A day after a lavish White House bill-signing ceremony on health care reform, President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order barring the law from allowing federally funded abortion, but he did so behind closed doors and with no media allowed.
The executive order, which the White House said reaffirms “the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s consistency with long-standing restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion,” was crucial to securing the support of several pro-life Democrats in Sunday’s House vote.
Led by Rep. Bart Stupak, the group threatened until the eleventh hour to vote against the bill - which passed by a seven-vote margin, 219-212. In furious last-minute negotiations, the White House offered the executive order as a compromise, and with just hours to go before the vote, the group abandoned its opposition and backed the president’s bill.
The order bans the federal government, through either tax credits or other means, from using taxpayer money for abortions offered through insurance exchanges created under the new law.
On Wednesday, Mr. Stupak and 12 House Democrats attended the subdued ceremony, along with Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who helped draft compromise language.
The White House was mum on its reasons for secrecy. Asked about the lack of transparency, press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters they would receive a handout photo from the official administration photographer to document the event.
“We’ll have a nice picture from Pete [Souza] that will demonstrate that type of transparency,” Mr. Gibbs said Wednesday.
The order drew criticism from pro-choice activists as well as pro-lifers. On Capitol Hill, Republicans derided it as a “phony order” and took aim at Mr. Obama’s lack of transparency.
“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 A. Boehner 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, the Center for Reproductive Rights excoriated Mr. Obama for signing the order, which bolsters the so-called Hyde Amendment, a long-standing ban on federal funding for abortion that he opposed as a presidential candidate.
“The president’s decision to issue an executive order designed to assuage Representative Stupak and his cohorts is a betrayal of millions of women across this country and of his campaign promises,” CRR President Nancy Northrup said. “It is tragic that, under a pro-choice administration and a Democratic majority in Congress, harmful anti-choice policy will be the price American women will pay for health care reform.”
But while pro-choice activists accused the order of going too far, anti-abortion groups say it offers little legal certainty.
“The executive order is not permanent law, just as regulations are not permanent law. Either or both of these can be repealed by President Obama and his administration fairly easily,” Americans United for Life said in a memo Wednesday that contrasted the order with the Hyde Amendment. “Should this executive order remain in place, it does not even attempt to address the broad mandate authorities in the bill that could be used to require private insurance plans to cover abortions. ”