Obama Signs Executive Order on Abortion Today

The health care debate is far from over, Republicans say.

ByABC News via logo
March 24, 2010, 7:48 AM

March 24, 2010— -- President Obama today signed an executive order banning federal funding for abortion, as he had promised to anti-abortion Democrats. But even though the health care bill is signed, sealed and delivered, Republicans across the country are plotting a strategy to repeal it by challenging the law's constitutionality in court.

The executive order is intended to ensure that current law limiting federal funding for abortion is maintained and it will extend the restrictions to the newly created health insurance exchanges. Under the current law, federal funds cannot go toward abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk.

Unlike yesterday's bill-signing celebrations in the East Room and the Department of the Interior, the president signed this executive action behind closed doors, with nary a camera present and no reporters allowed.

Obama pledged to sign it in exchange for the votes of anti-abortion Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who will be present at the signing today.

Many stumbling blocks still remain even as Democrats and Obama rejoice in the passing of the health care law.

At least 14 state attorneys general, only one of whom is a Democrat, filed lawsuits in state courts Tuesday after Obama signed the health care bill. They're charging that the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

Even before the health care bill made its way to the president's desk, four state legislatures passed laws attempting to block the bill. Virginia's GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected today to sign the bill into the state's law, making it illegal for the federal government to require Americans to purchase health insurance.

White House officials say they are confident the language in the bill will withstand legal challenges. The Department of Justice said it will "vigorously defend the constitutionality of the health care reform statute, along with any other claims, in any litigation that is brought against the United States," and it's confident the Obama administration will prevail.

But Democrats are still nervous about the litany of litigation.

"This Supreme Court, if they think it helps the Republican cause, they'll rule that way," Democratic strategist James Carville said on "Good Morning America" today. "I'm nervous about it."

A similar mandate was first proposed by Republicans, a point that Obama made in his remarks Tuesday. But there is a difference, Republican strategist Kevin Madden said.

"They're going to force individuals to go out and buy plans from private industries," Madden said on "GMA."

Under the health care bill, by 2014 most Americans would be required to have health insurance or pay a fine, with the exception of low-income Americans. Employers would also be required to provide coverage to their workers, or pay a fine of $2,000 per worker. Companies with fewer than 50 employees, however, are exempt from this rule.

While many legal experts say the Obama administration has the upper hand, others say it's not so cut and dry.

"Congress often does preempt state law, or pushes it aside in areas like the environment," said Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar and professor at George Washington University. "But what's different here is that they're treating individual citizens almost like polluting factories that amount to an interstate problem."

State attorneys general argue that the new law invades their freedom.

"The state has been put into a situation where are our liberties are being trampled on," Texas attorney general Greg Abbott said. "I'm confident that the court is going to declare the new health care reform law unconstitutional."

In the Senate, which still has to pass the "fixes" that Obama and House members proposed, Republicans are introducing a spate of amendments to delay the debate.

"In the end, in this political process, in this great democracy we have, the voters, the people, always get the final say-so," warned Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee. "And I think this is very important to remember as the president intends to take a victory lap on this bill."

Obama had an amusing take on the fickle winds of Washington, D.C., and how in politics nothing succeeds like success.

Reflecting on his legislative victory with health care overhaul legislation, he quipped to an aide Tuesday: "I guess we'll be considered smart again for at least another four weeks."

A USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday found that more Americans, 50 percent, were enthusiastic or pleased about the health care bill's passage, versus 42 percent, who were angry or disappointed. Nearly half, 49 percent, said passing the health care bill was a "good thing."