President Barack Obama announced on Sunday he will reaffirm a ban on using federal funds to pay for abortions, which convinced some holdout Democrats to support the healthcare overhaul but riled Republicans who said the decision could be easily reversed.
The White House said Obama would issue an executive order after the passage of the healthcare reform legislation that would reaffirm the measure's "consistency with longstanding restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion."
The U.S. right to abortion was recognized in the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, but federal funding of most abortions has been limited since 1976, and the issue is one of the most highly charged in the abortion debate.
Representative Bart Stupak, an abortion opponent who led a group of reluctant fellow Democrats, responded to the White House announcement of Obama's intended order by saying, 'We have an agreement."
Stupak's support could give Democrats in the House of Representatives the 216 votes they need to pass the bill. The vote is expected later on Sunday.
As debate proceeded on Capitol Hill in advance of the healthcare vote, Republican abortion foes expressed doubt and disappointment at Obama's intended order on abortion funding.
Representative Chris Smith, a longtime Republican opponent of abortion, called the order a "trick" and said the bill included a "congressionally mandated tax to support abortion."
"Unborn children and mothers will be killed by abortion in larger numbers as a direct result of this legislation, should it be enacted into law," Smith said at a briefing with other Republicans.
"An executive order issued by the president is not worth the paper it is printed on," said Republican Representative Jean Schmidt. "It can be rescinded in the blink of an eye."
The National Right to Life Committee, which opposes abortion, said the executive order was being issued for political effect: "It does not correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill. The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says."
NARAL Pro-Choice America, which favors abortion rights, called the action by Stupak and other Democratic abortion opponents "deeply disappointing," and said withholding federal funds for abortions "blocks low-income women from receiving full reproductive-health care."