Critical Condition

Executive Sham

Bioethics Defense Fund lawyers have carefully read the executive order used to induce Representative Stupak and his colleagues into providing the critical “yes” votes on the abortion-funding health-care bill now sitting on the president’s desk. Here’s our quick analysis of why the executive order is not worth the paper on which it is written:

1. The executive order directs no new action by any administrative agency. It merely directs the secretary of health to develop “model guidelines” for what is already in the Senate bill — namely, that there will be an accounting scheme that will, for the first time in history, allow government subsidies to be used to purchase insurance plans that cover abortion, provided that enrollees using that plan also pay an abortion surcharge into a segregated fund; and

2. The executive order then purports to do something that a president acting on his own cannot do without an enactment by Congress — to “extend” the Hyde Amendment to public dollars appropriated to Community Health Centers (like Planned Parenthood). If a president could do that, there would be no need to have a majority of Congress pass the Hyde Amendment each and every year to prevent abortion funding using Medicaid dollars for low-income government health care. Instead, we could have simply prevailed on each president to issue an executive order saying agencies can’t use Medicaid money for abortion. Congress controls the purse strings, not the president. That’s Civics 101.

The Obama administration knows full well that statutory law overrides executive orders. A court challenge (by Planned Parenthood) would immediately invalidate the null promises of the executive order. Bioethics Defense Fund is deeply disappointed that the Stupak Democrats allowed empty words and an obvious political ploy to trump the sanctity-of-life principle that they claimed to defend.

— Dorinda C. Bordlee is vice president and senior counsel of Bioethics Defense Fund, and editor of

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