No one is yet certain what was meant by President Barack Obama’s promise on Wednesday to Congress that “under our [health-care reform] plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.”

It could mean Obama is clinging to the false claim, repudiated by all key pro-life leaders, that the current version of the health-reform bill before the House of Representatives doesn’t allow for funding of abortion.

Or, it could mean instead that Obama’s personal vision of health-care reform doesn’t allow for the funding of abortion and therefore that he intends to instruct the Democratic leadership in Congress to amend their health-care reform bills to prohibit any such funding of abortion.

For their part, the U.S. bishops are assuming good faith on the president’s behalf and have applauded his commitment to exclude abortion funding.

“We especially welcome the president’s commitment to exclude federal funding of abortion and to maintain existing federal laws protecting conscience rights in health care,” Richard Doerflinger, associate director of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a USCCB press statement yesterday. “We believe that incorporating essential and long-standing federal laws on these issues into any new proposal will strengthen support for health-care reform. We will work with Congress and the administration to ensure that these protections are clearly reflected in new legislation, so no one is required to pay for or take part in abortion as a result of health-care reform.”

Speaking yesterday to Register correspondent Joan Frawley Desmond, Doerflinger elaborated, “The president isn’t talking about the current bills. He’s talking about what he’s going to do. … We hope this is a good faith effort to resolve the issue. We will see what the new bill includes.”

Like Doerflinger, the Register hopes Obama is truly committed to removing any mechanism from the health-care reform initiative by which abortion can be funded by federal taxpayers. And we’ll be asking the White House specifically where the president stands, regarding the bottom-line pro-life position expressed by Doerflinger — that the health-reform bills before Congress must be amended to include concrete language modeled on the pro-life Hyde Amendment, to ensure no abortion funding can ever be part of the plan.

If Obama specifies this language must be included in any final health-care reform bill that’s passed by Congress and signed into law by him, then Americans will know he’s serious about not allowing federal funding of abortion. If Obama fudges on this point, Americans will be forced to conclude that he is deliberately misleading them about his position on this issue of vital importance.