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.

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