President Obama agrees to sign anti-choice executive order

In a deal to win the votes of anti-choice House democrats on health care reform, President Obama agreed to sign an executive order re-stating and expanding the Hyde Amendment following the passage of health reform last night.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement:

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 President has said from the start that this health insurance reform should not be the forum to upset longstanding precedent. The health care legislation and this executive order are consistent with this principle.

There are two ways to read this: misleading or false. The executive order goes beyond the "status quo" of the Hyde Amendment by supporting the so-called Nelson compromise included in the health reform bill passed by Congress.

The status quo was terrible to begin with. The Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, restricting access for women on Medicaid, military personnel and families, those who receive care through Indian Health Services, and women on disability insurance. The Nelson "compromise" expands these limitations to the exchange set up through health reform. The use of private funds to pay for abortion will be restricted, with women having to write separate checks for abortion coverage and the rest of their health care. A George Washington University study and subsequent analysis suggest this will lead to the elimination of all insurance coverage for abortion services.

In other words, access to abortion is already severely limited for low income women. With health reform and this executive order those barriers will be expanded to all women who cannot afford to pay for abortions out of pocket. The terrible status quo is not being maintained – instead, restrictions to abortion access are being expanded.

The only exceptions in the executive order are in the case of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life is endangered. There are no exceptions for the woman’s health or for fetal anomalies.

True, the executive order is restating what is in the health reform bill and the Hyde Amendment. But Hyde is attached to an appropriations bill, which means it must be reinstated every year. So far, abortion access advocates have failed to take meaningful action and overturn Hyde, but the opportunity has been there. Executive orders don’t come up for a vote, though, and only presidents can rescind them.

The precise political import of this executive order is a complex issue – RH Reality Check has a round up of some initial reactions from political analysts. I’m unclear exactly how harmful this is, but let’s be clear, it’s bad.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, says the executive order is a, "betrayal of millions of women across this country and of his campaign promises." Terry O’Neill, president of NOW, says the president’s actions, "suggest that his commitment to reproductive health care is shaky at best."

At the end of the day political actions that impact people’s lives matter a hell of a lot more than rhetoric. The president has taken one major pro-choice action by lifting the global gag rule. But, with this new executive order, for U.S. women Barack Obama is an anti-choice president.


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