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.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

Read more about Jos

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  • brg

    I thought executive orders have no force of law?

  • geek_girl

    I feel lucky to be well-off enough to afford this on my own. I should see if my company matches PPH donations because they’ll be seeing a lot more business soon.
    I’m not sure abortion as an issue all by itself defines the president’s commitment to reproductive health care – I need a closer look at access to birth control, exams, etc, provided by the bill, but this is of course a major issue.
    That said, if 1/3 of women get abortions in their lifetimes, abortion laws apply to 1/6 of the population, a significant bloc but enough to encourage politicians to listen? Maybe, maybe not :(

  • supremepizza

    The Hyde Amendment is essentially a conscience clause & as long as we have legal abortion in this country we will always have (and should always have) conscience clauses. The provision of a political right, is not the provision of an economic right. In fact eliminating conscience clauses would be about the single most effective way of eliminating Roe v. Wade.

  • e-pro

    Can somebody in the Reproductive Freedom field summarize the ramifications of the bill in regards to women’s autonomy of their own bodies? I have received conflicting reviews.
    I spent an hour perusing the blogs on the Republican/righty side (National Review’s “The Corner”, Redstate, FreeRepublic) and they were PISSED in regards to the Health Reform Bill’s policy on abortion. During the vote, a Democratic member of the House was called a “baby-killer” by a fellow representative from the other party.
    Perhaps the Republicans would only be satisfied with a government mandate to assassinate abortion providers, and anything less is considered too pro-woman and pro-modernity for them. But how could issue advocacy groups on both sides be angry? Where does a Woman’s Autonomy stand after this bill in comparison to a week ago? Five years ago?

  • Comrade Kevin

    A Universal Win, Universal Health Care Means Less Abortion and Less Choice
    So, to sum up, access to abortion does not mean more abortions. Access to health care, though, means fewer abortions. Pro-life people should be rejoicing right now

  • IAmGopherrr

    Conscience clauses allow for a person to deny contraception or abortion services due to their OWN religious beliefs. In other words, they are forcing their religious practices onto another person. Conscience clauses are also particularly hypocritical; would they allow a scientologist to deny a woman with bipolar her pills simply because s/he doesnt believe in using medication for mental illness? I doubt it. It also inhibits access to obtaining things like the Pill which is used for more than simply contraceptive. For example, some women need it for hormonal balance if they have polycystic ovarian syndrome. It jeopardizes health, chooses for someone else their own reproductive choices and forces anothers belief onto an individual while disregarding the individuals own beliefs. So no, eliminating conscience clauses would not erase roe v wade. Thats an asinine claim to make.It would make it stronger.

  • supremepizza

    “In other words, they are forcing their religious practices onto another person.”
    No. Its pretty simple. The provision of a right by the government does not force the provision of a service by a private citizen. Just because the Supreme Court gives me the right to an abortion doesn’t mean that I can force you to give me one. You may as well as say that Operation Rescue can force Feministing to run their ads because Operation Rescue has 1st Amendment rights to free speech. That would be silly…and repugnant.
    Pro-choice means everyone’s entitled to a choice. Even when they choose something we disagree with.

  • allegra

    Yes. I would like to read that. I’m confused as well.
    It was Stupak (seriously!) who got called a “baby killer” by some Texas wingnut:
    I wouldn’t be surprised that anti-choicers are just pissed because they thought they had a great opportunity here to wriggle in further restrictions, but couldn’t. And half of the anti-choice camp is also against *birth control*, so I imagine they’re foaming at the mouth over even more taxes subsidizing my Pill. :/ We’ve got a bunch of the loony religious anti-birth-control crowd outside our Planned Parenthood right now.

  • ladybeethoven

    “Just because the Supreme Court gives me the right to an abortion doesn’t mean that I can force you to give me one.”
    But if you were the type of doctor who performed abortions you would be expected to do so. This isn’t a problem, though, because people who are against abortion generally don’t seek out to become OB-GYNs. If an abortion doctor tried to argue that it was against their religion to perform abortions, we would ask why they sought out the field in the first place. We should do the same with pharmacists who have a “moral” opposition to providing others with birth control. It’s not the pharmacist’s job to tell patients which prescriptions are ok, it’s the doctor’s, and if you aren’t prepared to honor a patient’s doctor’s orders on prescriptions then you shouldn’t become a pharmacist. End of story.
    And if we’re going to talk about the First Amendment – what of the patient’s religious rights? It’s just as unconstitutional for another person to force their own religious beliefs on someone who may not share them. If I go to the pharmacist, and he/she tells me that he/she can’t fill my prescription because birth control is against his/her religion, then I’m not being allowed to express my First Amendment rights because it’s been decided that I’m at the mercy of the pharmacist’s religious beliefs about birth control here. And that’s a much more intimate violation of religious rights than forcing someone to fill a prescription for birth control if they don’t agree it’s morally acceptable.
    Let’s keep in mind, too, that there’s nothing in the religious beliefs usually cited in these cases that actually say “dispensing birth control is wrong.” If you think the pharmacist is really feeling violated when they give a patient birth control, you’re quite naive. What this is REALLY about is the belief that all women should be abstinent until marriage. So, it is very clearly a case of the pharmacist not so much “protecting” their own religious beliefs, as wanting to impose them on their patients.

  • ladybeethoven

    “Pro-choice means everyone’s entitled to a choice.”
    And you’re taking away the choices of women who want birth control by allowing their pharmacists to make the decisions for them. (And “choose another pharmacist” doesn’t work in areas where these pharmacists are the *only* ones, as is the case in a lot of places.)