“Life is fragile,” Republican John Boehner said during brief remarks when he was sworn in as the 61st speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2011. “All is on loan—including this gavel.”
Boehner’s tumultuous life as the nation’s third-most-powerful elected official will come to an end when he resigns in October. Many conservatives danced on his political grave—blasting him for what they called his failed leadership—but the pro-life community mostly mourned his passing.
“I do think he’s the most pro-life speaker that we’ve had,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, told me. “During his time as speaker we’ve seen an unprecedented level of pro-life activity.”
Prior to Boehner, pro-life groups were accustomed to seeing one token pro-family vote each Congress, often right before an election. On Sept. 25, when Boehner announced his retirement, the House was days away from taking its fifth pro-life vote only nine months into the 114th Congress: a 20-week abortion ban, a ban on taxpayer abortion funding, a bill to protect babies born alive during abortion, and two votes to reallocate Planned Parenthood funding.
Ironically, a life-related issue led to Boehner’s demise: Conservatives in the party said he should reallocate Planned Parenthood funding at any cost—including shutting down the government. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the leading candidate to replace Boehner, probably won’t be any more eager to engage in budget brinksmanship than his predecessor, but his track record has pro-life groups feeling optimistic.
Since becoming majority leader in mid-2014, McCarthy has met with pro-life groups four times. While some leaders think McCarthy is not as personally pro-life as Boehner, as majority leader he’s had the most influence in getting their legislation to the floor.
In January he changed the House schedule to arrange a vote on the 20-week abortion ban during the March for Life. Pro-lifers were frustrated that McCarthy subsequently allowed members of his own party to scuttle the legislation, but they praised him for working behind the scenes to bring back what many called an even better bill.
“The real test of a true leader is how you recover,” Dannenfelser said. “He did make a mistake in my opinion, but he made something really good out of something really bad.”
The January debacle also proved the mettle of Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who now wants to climb the GOP leadership ladder to majority leader. The GOP had a long-standing policy against whipping—or putting pressure on members to support legislation—on social issues. The pro-life community was left to whip its own bills, which led to January’s breakdown. Scalise changed that: In May the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act became the first pro-life bill to benefit from the full whip operation.
The tea party conservatives who instigated Boehner’s ouster did not immediately have a ringleader to put forward in the leadership races, so they may settle for securing concessions on key issues such as the Export-Import Bank. (McCarthy previously said he favors allowing the bank to expire.) McCarthy’s ascension may make immigration reform slightly more likely—his district includes Silicon Valley—but overall his tenure is unlikely to differ significantly from Boehner’s. That will leave many tea party conservatives unsatisfied, but for pro-life groups, consistency is a good thing.
“I am optimistic that we will continue in a very strong pro-life direction,” Dannenfelser said. “But our motto has become ‘trust but verify.’”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Publication date: October 5, 2015