KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Signs Executive Order Affirming Ban On Federal Funding For Abortion

President Barack Obama signed an executive order Wednesday reaffirming a federal ban on funding for abortion, but he did it away from the gaze of the media.

The Washington Post: "But the 876-word, two-page document may be among the most important of his presidency. The carefully-negotiated document assured passage of his health care legislation by gaining a handful of crucial pro-life votes without shedding pro-choice ones. … A strict reading of the order suggests that it does little more than restate the existing prohibition on abortion funding, known as the Hyde amendment, and makes sure that government officials 'are aware of their responsibilities, new and old.' But that didn't stop pro-choice activists from condemning Obama for agreeing to it, or keep pro-life groups from asserting that it falls short. The National Organization for Women declared Sunday night that Obama's commitment to abortion rights is 'shaky at best' and said his willingness to sign the order demonstrated that 'it is acceptable to negotiate health care on the backs of women.'" Others said it showed Obama's pragmatism (Shear, 3/24).

The Associated Press reports that the order affirms the federal ban on federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the woman's life. The deal to sign the order was central to winning the votes of moderate, antiabortion Democrats who helped pass a health care reform bill, such as Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. "Obama invited Stupak and other lawmakers to the Oval Office for the signing of the order but made no effort to draw attention to it, and no media were allowed in the room."

"On the abortion issue, the new health care law tries to maintain a strict separation between taxpayer funds and private premiums that would pay for abortion coverage. No health plan will be required to offer coverage for the procedure. In plans that do cover abortion, beneficiaries will have to pay for it separately, and those funds would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money." Others say that the separation of funds is cosmetic "and in reality taxpayers would be paying for abortion because health plans that cover abortion would be getting federal money." The order commands officials to develop guidelines to segregate the money among public and private funds and "also sets out a mechanism aiming to ensure that community health centers cannot use federal funds for abortions, another concern for the Stupak group" (Werner, 3/24).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.