Four years ago, when passage or defeat of the Affordable Care Act appeared to rest in the hands of a small group of prolife House Democrats, President Obama won their support for the health care plan with an executive order promising elective abortion wouldn’t be part of the program. Skeptics said the order wouldn’t do the trick.

They were right. The question now isn't whether the Obamacare will include abortion but how much abortion, for whom, and at whose expense.

Former Michigan representative Bart Stupak, who'd led the little band of House Democrats in negotiations with the White House,  two years ago, declared himself to be "perplexed and disappointed" at the violation of the executive order --- and also, he added, of "statutory law" — then already beginning to take place.

Stupak, who’d chosen not to seek re-election in 2010, was speaking in particular of the HHS mandate --- the Health and Human Services Department's rule for the implementation of Obamacare that would compel even some church-related institutions to cooperate in providing abortifacient drugs, contraceptives and sterilization to employees via their health plans.

Not surprisingly, the mandate has evoked heated protests from religious leaders, the Catholic bishops among them, as well as from some proprietors of commercial enterprises opposed to abortion on conscience grounds. The argument is that coercing conscience in this manner violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.

The Supreme Court in March will hear two cases brought against the mandate by private businesses, with the Justice Department arguing the pro-abortion side. Also certain to be before the court soon is a case or cases involving religious groups. As this is written, it could be the much publicized case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor or it could be some other.

By no means, though, is the HHS mandate Obamacare’s only tip of the hat to elective abortion.

Experience has shown that in some places it can be difficult to impossible just to find out whether plans offered on the new federal and state exchanges cover the abortion procedure. That’s been the problem in New York and Minnesota, to mention just two.

In some states, too, all plans cover elective abortion, even though federal law requires that at least one plan be available that doesn't contain this coverage. Rhode Island and Connecticut are instances.

If someone ends up buying insurance that covers elective abortion, without knowing it or wanting it, he or she unwittingly is helping to pay for someone else's abortion. Legislation to remedy this problem has been introduced in both the Senate and the House but is thought to have little chance of passage.

That’s not all. The federal and state governments are contracting with community groups to encourage people to use the exchanges and show them how. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, is one such group, with grants in the hundreds of thousands of dollars going to affiliates in Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, California and the District of Columbia.

Addressing a Planned Parenthood conference last April, President Obama spoke with pride about the fact that the abortion movement's celebrated right to choose abortion was a part of Obamacare.

People whose memories go back just a few years will recall a time when some Catholic apologists for Obama insisted that, even though he was pro-choice himself, he could be counted on to respect the consciences of others who disagreed. How wrong can you be?

Russell Shaw is the author of more than 20 books, including volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism and the abuse of secrecy in the Church. He previously served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops (1967-87) and information director for the Knights of Columbus (1987-97).