The midterm election races are starting to heat up. The current member of the House of Representatives from the second district of Indiana, Democrat and Notre Dame alumnus Joe Donnelly, is running for re-election against Republican challenger Jackie Walorski.
Rep. Donnelly refused to vote for the Senate’s version of the healthcare bill this past spring until President Obama guaranteed by Executive Order 13535 that abortion would not be funded by taxpayer dollars.
The order read, “Following the recent enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered).”
Pro-life groups such as the National Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council have argued, however, that the order is effectively worthless. One of their foremost concerns is that it can be reversed almost at the tip of a hat. Any president, including the current one, can reverse the order without the need of any congressional approval. These groups fear that only a little political incentive would be required for the president to repeal the order.
Doug Johnson, Legislative Director of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a phone interview, “Mr. Donnelly and others who voted for this gravely flawed bill must be held accountable.”
Pro-life groups further worry that the order only restricts members of the executive branch and does not have any authority over the private sector. This is a slightly lesser issue for pro-life politicians, however, as no revenue from taxation would directly fund abortions.
Donnelly representative Mike Schmuhl provided the following quote: “I have been pro-life my entire life,” said Congressman Donnelly. “Since coming to Congress, I have been a tireless advocate for the unborn, and my voting record reflects this. I remain dedicated to my pro-life principles and will continue to support legislation that protects life at every stage.”
House Republican Leader John Boehner issued a statement in March highlighting the primary fault of the “guarantee” that the executive order seemed to offer. Boehner explained ,“Because of Roe v. Wade, courts have interpreted the decision as a statutory mandate that the government must provide federal funding for elective abortion through federal programs. In other words, no Executive Order or regulation can override a statutory mandate unless Congress passes a law that prohibits federal funding from being used in this manner.”
If, as Boehner says, the Roe v. Wade decision could be interpreted as a statutory mandate for federal funding of abortions, a president’s executive order could prove ineffective. Federal funding of abortions would be required regardless.
In early July, the National Right to Life Committee claimed that millions of federal dollars were about to go into a Pennsylvanian healthcare plan that permitted abortions in almost every circumstance. The plan legally prohibited only abortions banned by Pennsylvania state law, which amounted to those “sought solely because of the sex of the unborn child.”
In response to these charges, the Obama administration was quick to say that it had not yet completed the regulations for the state plans, and it would restrict abortions to those allowed by the Hyde amendment.
Spokesperson Melissa Fox for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department confirmed that there was “confusion” about the wording in the policy, but “we would not and could not use the federal dollars” to cover elective abortions.
Congressman Donnelly stated, “It’s already been tested, and it’s already succeeded. The recent decisions by the Department of Health and Human Services, the recent guidelines sent down made it very, very clear both in Pennsylvania and in New Mexico that not a dime can be used. There is no gray area.”
Johnson commented, “We will see this episode as part of a pattern where they try to get away with what they can on abortion, and then when a light shines on them they blow smoke and scurry for cover.”
Consequently, those senators and representatives who withheld their vote of approval until the promise of Executive Order 13535, such as Congressman Donnelly, face accusations from critics of having only a nominal pro-life stance. Donnelly may be asked to explain further his position on these issues as the midterm race continues.
Sam Kaulbach, a senior philosophy and economics major, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you really need a favor, his price is a 4×4 Boston skyscape. Politics editor Katie Petrik contributed reporting to this article.