Friday, April 23, 2010

National Journal: Boehner Increasingly Holds Pro-Life Mantle

Great article today! Here's the link:

John Boehner has long been a friend to homeschoolers, and I have worked closely with him and his office on many occasions.

*posted by Will Estrada*


For House Minority Leader John Boehner, this week's announcement that he will receive the "Defender of Life" award from a leading anti-abortion group was welcome news. And it revealed the significant changes in abortion conflicts -- as seen notably in the health reform debate -- that have marked one of the nation's hot-button political issues.

Although Boehner has long had a strong pro-life record, abortion has not been an issue on which he has been publicly identified. Even during his 5 years as chairman of what is now the House Education and Labor Committee, which handles some social issues, his legislative focus rarely moved toward abortion.

But he has quietly bolstered the anti-abortion cause -- from his friendship with the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) to his support in OH for litigation challenging Planned Parenthood. And his up-front role during the health care debate showed advocates on both sides of the issue that he was willing to get out front in opposing government support for abortion at a time when many long-time Dem foes of abortion -- chiefly, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) -- shifted the other way.

"His work with us has been remarkable, but he hasn't gotten much attention for it," said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, which will award Boehner at a May 5 event in DC. "Part of the reason that we are giving him the award is that we want to draw attention to the fact that he has been very involved."

Yoest was grateful not only for Boehner's strong opposition to Dem leaders' abortion deal with Stupak in the health reform bill, which he included in his "Hell, No" speech prior to the final vote in March, but also for the GOP Leader's willingness to raise the issue during the much-publicized WH health reform summit in Feb. "He was the one who challenged Pres. Obama," Yoest said.

The group's award is named for Hyde, who was long identified as the congressional leader of the anti-abortion cause. Hyde also was the member that Boehner "admired the most of all those he has served with," said a top Boehner aide. Following Hyde's retirement in '06, anti-abortion groups have often gone to Boehner for assistance, and "he's always been honored to do it." The aide added that Boehner is "very humbled to be recognized by those who have devoted their lives to working to protect the rights of the unborn."

In National Review this month, an editor of the conservative publication wrote that Boehner's name had rarely come up in the past among anti-abortion groups.

"For some, a distrust of those in power keeps them from embracing him. For some it's his style, his look and feel," wrote Kathryn Lopez. "But the fact of the matter is that Boehner managed to hold his caucus together on the health-care vote, and on other matters, he has kept the pro-choice crowd and its cronies on the ruling left in check -- as much as a minority leader can." She praised his "principled leadership," and drew the obvious contrast to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's strong support for abortion-rights groups.

With the apparent weakening of anti-abortion forces among congressional Dems, the health reform fight revealed that the abortion issue has taken on increasingly partisan lines -- with most GOPers willing to stand with pro-life advocates.

Although the abortion conflict ultimately did not affect the final outcome on health reform, national polling shows that the issue retains some political salience. In a nationwide Gallup poll last month, 21% said that abortion should be legal in all circumstances compared to 20% who responded that it always should be illegal. On a similar question in '06, the abortion-rights advocates had a 30% to 15% lead.

Interestingly, the share of the public who have responded that abortion should remain legal "only under certain circumstances" has remained steady between 50% and 60% since Gallup asked the question in '75, following the Supreme Court's landmark Roe vs. Wade abortion ruling in '73.

Despite the major legislative setback for anti-abortion forces, those numbers help to explain why Yoest is eager to recognize Boehner as abortion politics gain new and shifting focus.

"Boehner's speech to the House on health reform was a defining moment for the cause," she said. "We aren't going to go quietly. ... He saw the move on the other side, was willing to challenge it, and said that it will not stand."

April 23, 2010 11:05 AM
By Richard E. Cohen

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