This time last week, Representative Bart Stupak (D – Michigan) was the hero of social conservatives who were anxious to secure binding language banning federal funding of abortion in the health care legislation. Stupak’s resolve in the face of immense party pressure was commendable – a testament to his unwavering commitment to protecting the unborn despite the political risks. We at the Center for a Just Society shared in Rep. Stupak’s disappointment with those in his party who promoted federally-funded abortion as a means of cutting health care costs. Not surprisingly, Rep. Stupak’s 11th-hour change of heart and subsequent vote for the Senate’s health care reform legislation has left many puzzled and angry.
Why, after months of outspoken opposition to the bill, did Mr. Stupak yield? It certainly wasn’t because Nancy Pelosi and her allies finally decided to abandon their career-long commitment to dismantling each and every legal and cultural impediment to abortion-on-demand. As it happens, Rep. Stupak ended up surrendering his opposition in exchange for President Obama’s pledge to prevent federal funding of abortion via Executive Order.
At first hearing, this news might seem heartening to people concerned about protecting unborn children. An executive order sounds pretty important, after all, and the President made this pledge publicly. When pressed to justify this course of action, Rep. Stupak explained that it was the only way to avoid killing health care reform entirely, something he wasn’t prepared to do:
“The only option you had was leave the Senate language or strengthen it to prevent abortions under an executive order – that’s what we did, we stayed true to those principles – or vote no. . . . So you kill the bill and we do not have health care . . . I’ve always said I want to see health care for the nation.”
There are two glaring problem with Rep. Stupak’s rationale. First, the odds that Mr. Obama – who scored a 100% rating from NARAL three years in a row – will honor a pledge to block federal funds for abortion are slim, and second, even if he allows the Executive Order to remain in place, it is a meaningless measure that does not have the power to prevent tax dollars being used to finance elective abortions.
While the President would like his social conservative constituents to swallow his bland assertion that the question of when life begins is “above his pay grade,” his record and his words reveal a man quite certain in his belief that – alive or not – the unborn do not warrant legal protection from abortion-on-demand. While serving in the Illinois senate, Mr. Obama voted against restrictions on partial birth abortion and opposed the Born Alive Act (on the grounds that recognizing the humanity of an infant that survived abortion would be a slippery slope to affirming the humanity of the unborn, thus threatening the legality of abortion across the board). He was a NO vote on legislation that would prevent underage girls from traveling across state lines to procure an abortion, and a NO vote on legislation that would notify parents if their child seeks or obtains an out-of-state abortion. In his first year in office, he has filled virtually every key position in his administration, particularly in those areas concerned with public health and education, with individuals who embrace and promote abortion.
Even if one ignores the glaring improbability of the President’s sincerity in his promise to Stupak, the fact remains that an executive order cannot override the law. As applied to the health care legislation, the measure is virtually meaningless. Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, explained:
“An executive order is a direction from the President to employees in the Executive Branch of the Government to do something or not to do something. For example, when Bill Clinton was President he ordered that whenever outside vendors are hired by the government they have to be unionized. When George W. Bush was President he ordered that you don’t have to hire unionized people. How could they do that? Because the law itself is silent, and the President has discretion in that area; and a subsequent president, as Bush did with Clinton, as President Obama did with President Bush, can undo a presidential executive order. And this President could undo his own executive order – if he wanted to – the day after he signed it. But the legislation that the House passed last night, which the President will sign tomorrow, uses federal dollars to pay for insurance policies which provide abortion coverage for any reason permissible under the state law of the state in which the abortion is to occur. . . . If Congressman Stupak thinks that the President’s executive order can stop that, he is sadly mistaken, because the performer of the abortion and the payer of the abortion is not the federal government. It’s a doctor employed by an insurance company whose policy has been purchased by the federal government. So the President can’t stop that with an executive order. . . . So what did Congressman Stupak and the other so-called pro-life Democrats get? They got a fig leaf. They got a little political cover.”
Unless Rep. Stupak would have the American people believe that he lacked the intelligence to understand the effect, or lack thereof, of a presidential executive order, then we must assume that he understood the implications of his deal with the President and proceeded anyway.
For the millions of pro-life Americans who pinned their hopes for the protection of unborn life on the principled leadership of Rep. Stupak, one thing is crystal clear: We’ve been had – and so have the unborn.
Attorney Ken Connor is the Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC, and the former President of the Family Research Council. He served as counsel to Governor Jeb Bush in Bush v. Schiavo during the Terri Schiavo case, and is co-author of “Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty.”