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Obama issues low-key order on abortions

President Barack Obama pledged the administration would not allow federal funds to pay for elective abortions covered by private insurance Wednesday, keeping a promise made to ensure passage of his health care legislation.

world Updated: Mar 25, 2010 11:06 IST

President Barack Obama pledged the administration would not allow federal funds to pay for elective abortions covered by private insurance Wednesday, keeping a promise made to ensure passage of his health care legislation.

Unlike Tuesday, when a beaming Obama signed the health care law in a nationally televised ceremony, the White House refused to permit coverage of the event. It occurred in the presence of a small group of anti-abortion Democratic lawmakers who had extracted the commitment over the weekend. The president supports abortion rights. The political maneuvering occurred as the FBI announced it was investigating threats received by about 10 Democratic lawmakers in recent days in apparent connection with the intensely controversial health care law.

At the same time, Senate Democrats drove toward final passage of a second health care bill, drafted to supplement the first by sweetening benefits for seniors with high prescription drug costs and for lower-to-middle income families who cannot afford the cost of insurance.

Lacking the votes to stop it, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to fight until this bill is repealed.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said the legislation Obama signed on Tuesday was a "wonderful bill" that would help millions with inadequate coverage or none at all.

Far outnumbered, Senate Republicans sought votes on politically-charged proposals that, while potentially troublesome for Democrats, were doomed to defeat.

By shortly after midnight, Republicans had offered 22 consecutive amendments, and over the course of nearly seven hours Democrats had rejected every one. It was unclear how much longer the night's voting would last.

Much of the day's events amounted to mop-up actions by the White House and Senate Democrats, one day after Obama signed into law far-reaching changes in the nation's health care system that had eluded presidents and lawmakers for a century.

At its core, the new law would expand health care to 32 million who lack it while cracking down on the insurance industry and cutting federal deficits by an estimated $143 billion over a decade. Most of the bill's estimated $938 billion cost for coverage would pay for assistance to help families with annual incomes of up to $88,000 pay for insurance, although small businesses also would receive subsidies as in incentive to cover their employees. The two bills combined call for nearly $1 trillion in higher taxes and Medicare cuts over 10 years, provisions that sparked strong opposition from congressional Republicans, all of whom voted against the bill's passage.

For the first time, millions of Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. That requirement was at the heart of much of the opposition to the legislation by Republicans, conservatives activists and others, and 13 attorneys generals have already filed suit to try to invalidate the law.

The Democrats' drive to enact sweeping health care changes had appeared doomed as recently as two months ago, when Obama took personal command of a revival effort.

Passage wasn't assured until Sunday, a few hours before the final vote, when Obama agreed to issue an executive order specifying that he would not permit the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother was in danger.