Obama signs executive order on abortion in health care legislation

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a quiet ceremony before more than a dozen members of Congress, mostly Catholics, President Barack Obama signed an executive order stipulating that no federal funds would be used to pay for abortions under the new health reform law.

The ceremony was closed to the media and the president delivered no remarks about the order, which was promised to a group of pro-life House Democrats in exchange for their votes in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The legislation passed by a 219-212 vote late March 21.

The text of the order says its aim is to “establish an effective enforcement mechanism to ensure that federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with a long-standing federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde amendment.”

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a March 23 interview that he is apprehensive about whether the executive order will achieve its stated goal. Some legal experts believe the wording of the new law itself, and not the executive order, will be used by courts to decide whether federal funds can be used for abortions.

Those attending the signing ceremony included Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Reps. Bart Stupak of Michigan; Kathy Dahlkemper, Chris Carney and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania; Marcy Kaptur, Steve Driehaus and Charlie Wilson of Ohio; Nick Rahall and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia; Jerry Costello of Illinois; Jim Oberstar of Minnesota; Brad Ellsworth of Indiana; and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

The executive order says conscience protections “remain intact and new protections prohibit discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers because of an unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage or, or refer for abortions.”

It also stipulates that appropriations to a new fund for community health centers cannot be used to fund abortions.

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