Pro-choice and pro-life groups on Sunday strongly denounced a deal by pro-life Democrats and President Obama to ensure limits on taxpayer money for abortion services, outlined in a Senate health insurance overhaul now on the verge House approval.
Abortion rights supporters chastised the president, saying he caved on his principles by agreeing to issue an executive order that strengthens limits on abortion. Abortion opponents, on the other hand, said Obama's pending order does nothing to prohibit spending on abortion services as provided in the Senate bill.
The National Organization for Women issued a statement that it is "incensed" Obama agreed to the deal sought by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and other lawmakers who argued that the Senate health care overhaul allowed public funding for abortions. The lawmakers had been the key votes to stopping passage of the massive government plan.
"Through this order, the president has announced he will lend the weight of his office and the entire executive branch to the anti-abortion measures included in the Senate bill, which the House is now prepared to pass," reads a statement from NOW.
"President Obama campaigned as a pro-choice president, but his actions today suggest that his commitment to reproductive health care is shaky at best. ... We see now that we have our work cut out for us far beyond what we ever anticipated. The message we have received today is that it is acceptable to negotiate health care on the backs of women, and we couldn't disagree more," the group said.
The National Right to Life Committee argued that seven objectionable pro-abortion provisions in the Senate bill are unchanged.
"The executive order promised by President Obama was issued for political effect. It 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 group said.
Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund President Marjorie Dannenfelser said the group was revoking its "Defender of Life" award to Stupak, which was to be awarded at its Wednesday night gala.
"We were planning to honor Congressman Stupak for his efforts to keep abortion-funding out of health care reform. We will no longer be doing so," Dannenfelser said. "Let me be clear: any representative, including Rep. Stupak, who votes for this health care bill can no longer call themselves 'pro-life.'"
Stupak, who led Democratic lawmakers opposed to the Senate bill, made an announcement of a deal Sunday afternoon, surrounded by a handful of Democratic lawmakers who had held out their "yes" votes in exchange for a guarantee of no public funding for abortion.
The arrangement appeared to cement passage of the massive insurance overhaul as House lawmakers later approved the rules for debate in a 224-206 vote, moving the House one step closer to passage.
"I'm pleased to announce that we have an agreement, and it's with the help of the president and the speaker we were able to come to an agreement to protect the sanctity of life in the health care reform. There will be no public funding for abortion in this legislation," Stupak said.
The White House issued its own statement about the executive order.
The president "will be issuing an executive order after the passage of the health insurance reform law that will reaffirm its consistency with longstanding restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion," reads the statement from White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.
"While the legislation as written maintains current law, the executive order provides additional safeguards to ensure that the status quo is upheld and enforced, and that the health care legislation's restrictions against the public funding of abortions cannot be circumvented," the statement reads.
Opponents say an executive order does not have the force of law that legislation would provide.
"That is not the rule of law. That's the rule of man. One man can sign an executive order and one man can repeal that again, the president of the United States," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., appearing on "Fox News Sunday" before the deal was announced.
House Minority Leader John Boehner said an executive order "can direct members of the executive branch, it cannot direct the private sector."
"Because of Roe v. Wade, courts have interpreted the decision as a statutory mandate that the government must provide federal funding for elective abortion in through federal programs. In other words, no executive order or regulation can override a statutory mandate unless Congress passes a law that prohibits federal funding from being used in this manner," Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., added that pro-life Democrats should be alarmed by a promise coming from a politician with a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
"This puts the fate of the unborn in the hands of the most pro-abortion president in history," he said.
Stupak had frustrated Democratic liberals who said they were fine with the language in the Senate health care that stipulated taxpayer money for abortions not be used by private insurance plans operating in a new insurance marketplace.
Opponents of the Senate bill, however, had wanted more rigorous language like that which had passed the House in November under the "Stupak amendment." Stupak said statutory language would've been preferable but would not pass the Senate.
Stupak's concerns seemed to have been allayed by the executive order even though the Senate bill creates a tricky accounting technique to separate out federal subsidies for premiums on plans that allow abortion coverage and those that do not.
Planned Parenthood argued that while it opposed the president's decision to issue an order, the abortion service provider was glad the president didn't order a ban on private health insurance coverage for abortion, as it claimed Stupak's amendment would've done.
"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. "We are grateful that it does not include the Stupak abortion ban."
Health insurance provided by government-run exchanges is not set to go into effect until 2014, after the 2012 election. Stupak said he was confident the executive order would not be rescinded by Obama.
The president "said there will be no federal dollars for abortion. The president has put his commitment in writing," Stupak said. "This is a very extensive order, he does not plan on rescinding it."