By Jason Millman - 01/21/11 09:34 PM EST
A day after House Republicans laid out an ambitious agenda limiting abortion, President Obama’s top health official strongly denied the notion that the federal government funds the procedure.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the Democrats’ sweeping healthcare reform law does not fund abortions, and that no president’s administration has since the Hyde Amendment passed more than 30 years ago.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and members of the Pro-Life Caucus, calling a ban on taxpayer funding for abortion “the will of the people,” announced two bills Thursday that seek to strengthen prohibitions on the procedure.
One seeks to rewrite the healthcare reform law to ensure it does not allow for taxpayer funding of abortion. The bill is modeled after an amendment proposed by former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that was dropped from the final reform law.
However, to bolster support for the reform law, Obama signed a presidential executive order that clarifies the reform law doesn’t allow federal funding for abortion. But anti-abortion advocates have raised concerns that the law’s language might allow loopholes for high-risk pools and community health centers.
“Clearly, there's an awful lot of doubt about where the administration really is on this issue,” Boehner said during a Thursday press conference.
"The law already prohibits federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered," an administration official told The Hill. "The Affordable Care Act maintains that policy. Like Wednesday’s vote, this effort is about politics, not substance. The American people are going to start to wonder why the new House Majority is spending its time on stunts rather than working with us to create jobs and grow the economy.”
Sebelius declined to say whether the Obama administration would support a bill that would make the executive order into a law.
“Language matters,” she said. “We’ll take a look at the measures. The president made it very clear that we intend to carry out the executive order, but it doesn’t change anything that’s been done under Democrats and Republicans in this department in 30 years.”
House Republicans have provided few details about their plans to replace the healthcare reform law, but they’ve made clear they will take a firm stance against abortion.
Another bill announced Thursday would provide a permanent, government-wide ban on federal subsidies for abortion and insurance plans that cover abortion. The bill would make permanent the Hyde Amendment restricting federal funding for abortion. It currently must be reintroduced in Congress each year.
One abortion-rights group was quick to condemn the GOP’s abortion bills on Thursday.
"Republicans took control of Congress on a promise to create jobs, but instead, one of their first acts is to take away health insurance benefits that the majority of women currently have," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement. "The true intent ... is to end insurance coverage for virtually all abortions, including private insurance coverage that Americans pay for with their own money, even in cases involving the most severe dangers to a woman's health.”
“The truth is the health care law allows for taxpayer funding of abortion," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. "If there were any doubt about this, that doubt was put to rest earlier this week when former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel sought to bolster his pro-abortion bona fides by claiming victory for health care by not putting abortion restrictions in statue."
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune editorial board, Emanuel had said, "I came up with an idea for an executive order to allow the Stupak Amendment not to exist by law but by executive order."
Julian Pecquet contributed to this article.
This story was updated at 8:15 p.m.