(CNSNews.com) - Even though President Obama repeatedly has said that the health care bill will not allow federal funding of abortion, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs failed three times on Monday to answer reporters’ questions about whether the president supports an amendment to the bill that would prohibit federal funds from going to health insurance plans that pay for abortions. Such an amendment was approved by the House on Saturday.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), specifically applies the language of the longstanding Hyde Amendment to the programs that would be created by the Democrats’ health care bill.
The amendment simply says no federal funds can pay for any part of any health insurance plan that covers abortion.
The Hyde Amendment, as it now stands, would not apply to the programs created by the health care bill because it only applies to programs funded by the annual appropriations bills in which it is included. The federally subsidized health insurance plans created by the Democrats’ proposed health care bill would not be funded through annual appropriations.
Stupak’s amendment passed on a bipartisan vote of 240-194. The health care reform bill itself passed by only 220-215, with 39 Democrats and all but one Republican voting against it. The bill needed a minimum of 218 votes to pass.
Gibbs fielded several questions Monday from reporters who wanted to know where the president stood on Stupak’s amendment. He answered none of them.
“Does he support the abortion funding restrictions in the House bill?” asked Chip Reid of CBS News.
“The president, Chip, as you know, went to Capitol Hill to rally support for the bill,” Gibbs said in response to Reid’s question. “That bill is now through the House, which we're quite pleased about. The Senate, once we get budget numbers from CBO, will become--that will move to the Senate floor. I don't doubt that you'll have a somewhat different bill. That's the way this process works, and we'll iron out differences as they come.”
“What's his position on abortion funding restrictions?” asked Reid.
“I think you heard the president in front of Congress several months ago, and we'll continue to make progress,” said Gibbs.
“So then he wouldn't support anything like the provision that's in the House bill?” Reid tried again.
“I'm not going to become a negotiator from Capitol Hill--on Capitol Hill from the podium,” said Gibbs.
“Would he accept something that goes beyond what the Hyde amendment does?” asked Reid—without stating that the Stupak amendment does not go beyond the Hyde amendment, but mirrors it.
“We will wait to see what health care reform brings,” said Gibbs.
“So there could be something then, in the end, that goes beyond current law in restricting abortion funding?” asked Reid.
“Chip, I wish we were having this conversation as the last part of this process, but as your network and others have pointed out, there are miles to go before we sleep,” said Gibbs.
Later in the briefing Gibbs dismissed another reporter’s question on the issue without answering it.
“Okay. And back on the abortion question,” asked the reporter. “Candidate Obama campaigned as a pro-choice Democrat. This was a big debate between he and Hillary Clinton, who was more pro-choice.”
“I don't completely remember that debate, but go ahead,” said Gibbs.
“But anyway, he was a pro-choice Democrat and now he's--the House has passed some of the strictest legislation restricting abortion that we've seen in a very long time. I mean, can Barack Obama, who campaigned as a pro-choice Democrat, sign legislation with this language?” asked the reporter.
In fact, the Stupak amendment does not restrict abortion at all. It only restricts tax dollars from going to pay for any part of an insurance plan that covers abortions.
“Well, Jonathan, we'll--ask me that right before Christmas and the end of the New Year,” said Gibbs.
A reporter later tried a third time to get an answer out of Gibbs, but to no avail.
“NARAL and Planned Parenthood have condemned the language in the House bill and want it repealed,” said the reporter. “Does the White House agree or disagree with NARAL and Planned Parenthood's interpretation of the bill currently?”
“I'm not going to get deeply into this, except to say that we will work on this and continue to seek consensus and common ground,” said Gibbs.
“In pursuit of what--just passing the bill?” asked the reporter.
“Health care reform,” said Gibbs.
“Okay. But not resolving abortion to the satisfaction of NARAL or Planned Parenthood?” asked the reporter.
“I think this obviously is something that will have to be addressed in order to get to that point,” said Gibbs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) is still working on the final language of the Senate health care bill. But the version of the bill that was approved by the Senate Finance Committee includes the same abortion language that the House bill did before Stupak’s amendment stripped that language.
Under this language—sometimes referred to as the Capps Amendment after Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) who offered it in the House—the insurance plans offered in the health insurance exchange will be allowed to cover abortions. In addition, the Capps language incorporated in the Senate Finance Committee bill mandates that at least one insurance plan available for purchase with federal subsidies must cover abortions.
During October, CNSNews.com asked Gibbs about abortion coverage in the health care bill several times, on two occasions specifically referring to the Stupak amendment.
Gibbs initially erroneously insisted that the Hyde amendment in annual appropriations bills would already prohibit federal funding of abortion through the health care bill. After the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to members of Congress pointing out that the Hyde amendment, as it stands, would not apply to the health care bill and that an amendment like Stupak’s was necessary to prohibit abortion funding through the bill, Gibbs erroneously said the bishops were mistaken in their legal interpretation.
Both FactCheck.org and the Congressional Research Service said that the health care bills as they then stood would fund abortion.
Asked specifically about the Stupak amendment before the House voted on the bill, Gibbs declined to say whether the president supported it or not. “I have not seen what Congressman Stupak said most recently. I would refer you to the answers I gave you on this question just twice last week,” Gibbs said.
In an interview with CNSNews.com, Stupak said he had been asking President Obama through his advisors to tell House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to put Stupak’s language prohibiting abortion funding in the bill.
CNSNews.com also asked Gibbs if the president would intervene with Pelosi. Gibbs did not answer the question directly but at that time seemed to shift from his earlier insistence that existing federal law—the Hyde amendment in annual appropriations bills—already would prohibit abortion funding in the health care bill.
“I know that the president's position on this has been clear, that no federal money should be used to pay for abortions in a health care bill,” Gibbs said then.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL-Pro Choice America, said her group would attempt to strip Stupak’s amendment from the final version of the bill.
“This vote is a reminder to America’s pro-choice majority that, despite our gains in the last two election cycles, anti-choice members of Congress still outnumber our pro-choice allies,” Keenan said in a statement. “…That's why we will continue to mobilize our activists and work with our allies in Congress to remove this dangerous provision from the health-care bill and stop additional attacks as the process moves to the Senate.”
Meanwhile, Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said the Stupak language was needed because contrary to what the White House had been saying previously, the bill would have allowed public funding of abortion if the amendment were not added.
“The Obama White House and top congressional Democratic leaders spent months concealing and misrepresenting provisions that would directly fund abortions through a government plan, and subsidize premiums for private abortion plans,” Johnson said in a statement on Saturday. “Today's bipartisan House vote is a sharp blow to the White House's pro-abortion smuggling operation. But we know that the White House and pro-abortion congressional Democratic leaders will keep trying to enact government funding of abortion, and will keep trying to conceal their true intentions, so there is a long battle ahead.”
On July 17, 2007, as a presidential candidate, Obama told a Planned Parenthood gathering that his health care plan would fund “reproductive services.” “We're going to set up a public plan that all persons and all women can access if they don't have health insurance,” he said. “It will be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services, as well as mental health services and disease management services; because part of our interest is to make sure that we're putting more money into preventive care.”
But on Aug. 19 this year, President Obama told faith leaders in a forum on Blog Talk Radio, “You've heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true. These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation. And that is that we look out for one another: That I am my brother's keeper and my sister's keeper. And in the wealthiest nation on earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call.”
The very next day, the president told a gathering of the Democratic National Committee, “There are no plans under health reform to revoke the existing prohibition on using federal taxpayer dollars for abortions. Nobody is talking about changing that existing provision, the Hyde Amendment. Let's be clear about that. It's just not true.”
Speaking to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9, Obama said, “One more misunderstanding I want to clear up: under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.”
On several other occasions, Gibbs has reasserted the president’s commitment that abortion would not be funded under the health care legislation.