With the flick of President Obama’s pen this week, Democrats celebrated a historic victory on health reform. But soon after all the cameras had left the room, the president signed an executive order that gave new life to another law he once condemned.
The two-page document helped Obama and his Democratic allies salvage the health care measure in the final hours before Sunday’s vote, winning the support of a key group of pro-life Democrats determined to scuttle the effort otherwise.
But it also denied female beneficiaries of the bill’s new subsidies and programs the opportunity to receive abortion coverage with their health insurance, reversing a position the president staked out during the campaign.
“Obama does not support the Hyde amendment,” his staffers said in December 2007, responding to a questionnaire from the reproductive rights group RH Reality Check.
“He believes that the federal government should not use its dollars to intrude on a poor woman’s decision whether to carry to term or to terminate her pregnancy and selectively withhold benefits because she seeks to exercise her right of reproductive choice in a manner the government disfavors.”
Referring to this statement, Mother Jones’ David Corn asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Wednesday whether Obama is worried that the executive order will “further enshrine” the Hyde law.
“I would have to see what — I don’t know the comment that you’re referring to,” Gibbs responded. He added, “I would stipulate that the President believes in a woman’s right to choose.”
Pro-choice groups assailed Obama’s decision, describing it as a reversal of his values and a snub to womens’ rights.
“Women elected him. He campaigned as a pro-choice president,” Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, told the Washington Post. “[O]n balance this law is not good for women. It’s health reform that has been achieved on the backs of women and at the expense of women.”
O’Neill added: “I’ve heard women complain very loudly, ‘This would never have happened if Hillary had been president.'”
“We’re very disappointed,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. “Health-care reform was supposed to expand health-care coverage for women. Now women will be worse off under health-care reform.”
The issue of abortion came close to sinking the whole health reform effort several times throughout the year-long deliberations. Finding a compromise between the pro-choice and pro-life Democrats seemed like a nearly impossible task at times, and Republicans used it as a weapon to further divide proponents of reform.