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President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order restating that health care reform does not allow federal funding for abortions, a move that some anti-abortion-rights House Democrats say wasn’t legally necessary but will help them fend of critics of their vote for the health care overhaul.

Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) were among the dozen lawmakers who joined Obama as he signed the order, which was part of a deal with anti-abortion-rights Democrats whose votes were crucial for passing the health overhaul on Sunday night.

Cuellar called the order “an exclamation point” on laws already in place. Since the Henry Hyde amendment and the health care bill already bar the use of federal funds for abortions, an executive order is just more ammo against critics of the bill, he said.

“People are using abortion as a distraction. We are pro-life, but we want to make sure people are not distracted,” Cuellar said.

Rahall said Obama assured lawmakers that his order “will stand up to any court challenge.”

House Republican leaders blasted Obama for using his executive power for political reasons, saying the order will have no effect.

“It is a transparent attempt to provide political cover to Washington Democrats who betrayed their constituents by voting to allow taxpayer-funded abortion in the United States for the first time in 30 years,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

But Rahall listed off past presidents who have used executive orders to bolster legislation, including President George W. Bush, who did so in June 2007 to reaffirm stem cell legislation. Rahall took aim at two organizations — the National Right to Life and the Conference of Catholic Bishops — for slamming Obama’s use of the executive order when they previously endorsed Bush’s executive order.

“It’s the same groups criticizing this executive order as being worthless that endorsed executive orders under George W.,” Rahall said.

“They want to oppose it. So you give them the facts, and it doesn’t matter,” Cuellar said of the two groups.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended the president’s use of the executive order on the matter.

“We’re comfortable reiterating that status quo,” he said.

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