On March 21, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 219-212 to approve the Democrats’ pro-abortion health care reform bill. The bill passed after Rep. Bart Stupak (D, Mich.) accepted a compromise from the White House that he says will limit abortion funding. Last November, Stupak co-authored an amendment that restricted taxpayer funding of abortion. A similar effort in the Senate failed although the Democratic leadership there argued that the bill’s language would uphold the Hyde Amendment prohibition on public funding of abortion, a claim that pro-life groups said was false.

After days of reports that a compromise was alternately futile or imminent, Stupak agreed just hours before the vote to accept a promise from the administration that President Barack Obama would sign an executive order (EO) outlawing direct or indirect taxpayer funding of abortion.

Republican lawmaker Mike Pence (Ind.) said all the negotiations over abortion funding were a “tacit admission that this legislation provides for the public funding of abortion.” He said if the reform bill “isn’t an abortion bill, then why the need for an executive order.”

A half-dozen other pro-life Democrats joined Stupak in supporting the bill, giving the Democratic leadership just enough votes (216 was required for passage). Two days later, Obama signed the bill into law.

Americans United for Life said the EO is not as comprehensive as the Hyde Amendment and applies to only some parts of the health care bill and thus permits funding in some circumstances. AUL’s lawyers stated in a release, “Should this executive order remain in place, it does not even attempt to address the broad mandate authorities in the bill that could be used to require private insurance plans to cover abortions.”

The National Right to Life Committee said, “The executive order promised by President Obama was issued for political effect.  It changes nothing. It does not correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill.” They added it is not legally enforceable: “The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says.”

Republican House leader John Boehner (Ohio) issued a release after the announcement of the compromise, just before the vote: “Make no mistake, a ‘yes’ vote on the Democrats’ health care bill is a vote for taxpayer-funded abortions.”

Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, said the “flimsy promise of an executive order from the President may make it more comfortable for ‘pro-life’ Democrats … to vote for the bill, but in the end, such an illusory promise is not even worth the paper on which it’s written.”

An attempt by pro-life Republicans to return the bill to committee to reinsert the original Stupak language was defeated by 232-199. Stupak himself voted against the motion.

The NRLC said that taxpayer funding of abortion was not the only troubling part of the bill. They pointed to numerous other concerns with the legislation: limiting the health care choices of the sick and elderly, creating pro-abortion administrations and funding within the new health care bureaucracy, and the lack of a conscience protection for health care workers. The NRLC called the bill the “most expansively pro-abortion legislation to ever come before the House of Representatives.

After the bill was passed, Planned Parenthood issued a release celebrating, calling it “a huge victory” that would “significantly increase insurance coverage of reproductive health care, including family planning.”