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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Shannon Bream

Washington, DC

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Stupak’s Deal: Enforceable or Empty?

March 22, 2010 - 6:14 PM | by: Shannon Bream

With word on Sunday that Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) had reached a deal with the White House, Democrats confidently moved toward a landmark vote on health care reform. Stupak, and the pro-life Democrats who joined with him, were holding out for tougher language banning any federal funding for abortions. They got the reassurance they were looking for in the form of an Executive Order from President Obama. But critics say, no executive order can trump laws passed by Congress. Bill Burck, former Deputy Counsel to President George W. Bush, says, “If it came down to a challenge between what the Executive Order says and what the legislation says, any court would go with the legislation – not the Executive Order.” Burck says no president has the independent authority or power to overrule legislation via an executive order, which apply only to personnel and agencies with the executive branch.

Others, like Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center, believe the Order from President Obama will settle the abortion funding question, “If the goal is to make sure that federal funds don’t go directly to abortion, to fund abortions, the Executive Order does that.” It was certainly enough to convince Stupak, who concedes he would have preferred to have his own language inserted into health care legislation. Stupak says when it became clear that wouldn’t happen, the Executive Order was the next best option. According to Stupak, “The Executive Order will have the full force of law.”

But both sides of the abortion debate remain unconvinced. The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List was set to give Stupak its “Defender of Life” award on Wednesday night, but has since rescinded the prize. President Marjorie Dannenfelser tells Fox News Stupak morphed from someone she believed in to, “someone who could trade away the lives of unborn children and force taxpayers to pay for it.” Under those circumstances, Dannenfelser said of the award, “we just couldn’t do it.”

Even Planned Parenthood issued a statement suggesting Stupak was duped. The message from the organization’s president, Cecile Richards, said, “What the president’s executive order did not do is include the complete and total ban on private health insurance coverage for abortion that Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) had insisted upon,” and went on to add, “It is critically important to note that it does not include the Stupak abortion ban.” In the end, what the Congressman may have been left with is simply political cover for his vote. Burck says if Stupak didn’t like the bill’s underlying language, he shouldn’t be comforted by a piece of paper. “This Executive Order does nothing to change that,” Burck continues, “Representative Stupak, if he doesn’t know that – he really should.”

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