Midterm Change of Course

The presumptive speaker of the House of Representatives is a Catholic who believes in the sanctity of life.

WASHINGTON — The first woman speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has identified herself as “an ardent practicing Catholic,” will soon be the first former woman speaker of the House.

This after being instrumental in the passage of the “biggest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade,” as Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee described the president’s signature health-care legislation when it passed the House in March.

The Democrats’ relegation to minority status coincides with an uptick of Catholics voting Republican during the midterm elections Nov. 2 — 53% according to CNN exit polls. Among Democrats defeated were some other key players in the passage of the health-care legislation, including a number of self-described pro-life Democrats who ultimately voted for the bill.

Among the “pro-life Democrats” to lose were Kathy Dahlkemper and Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania; 14-year incumbent Charlie Wilson, John Boccieri and Steve Driehaus of Ohio; Brad Ellsworth in Indiana; Jim Oberstar in Minnesota. All were targeted by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List for defeat in their “Votes Have Consequences” campaign, and Driehaus even made the SBA List go to court in trying to get billboards up in his district informing voters about his vote on health-care reform.

Catholic Republicans elected to seats previously held by Catholic Democrats include Dan Benishek in Michigan (elected to the seat previously held by Bart Stupak, who led the pro-life Democratic opposition to the health-care bill in Congress until the final hours before its passage), Bobby Schilling in Illinois and Sean Duffy in Wisconsin.

The man who will presumably take Pelosi’s speaker’s gavel in January is also a Catholic, John Boehner.

In the days before the election, the congressman from Ohio told talk radio host Sean Hannity: “We will not compromise on our principles.” And when asked what he was doing to prep for Election Day and after, he told radio host Mike Gallagher, “I’ve been praying all day, every day, trying to make it through this election and make sure our team is successful.”

He added that prayer “does work.” “You’ve just got to stay at it every day and build a closer relationship with our Savior,” Boehner said.

Immediately following the House takeover, when asked by ABC’s Diane Sawyer what role Catholicism plays in his life, the presumptive speaker said: “Well, it’s given me a real foundation of faith. And — while I don’t wear it on my shirtsleeve — I have deep abiding faith in Our Lord.”

Defender of Life

In a letter to House Republican members and members-elect two days after the election, Boehner paid tribute to his parents for sending him and his siblings to Catholic schools: “I grew up in a small house on a hill in Reading, Ohio, with 11 brothers and sisters. My dad owned a bar — Andy’s Café — that my grandfather Andy Boehner started in 1938. What little money my parents had they used to send all of us to Catholic schools. I worked nights as a janitor to put myself through college.”

Boehner, a congressman from Ohio who is currently serving his 10th term in the House, has made his pro-life views a fundamental part of his tenure and campaign for the Republican House leadership and now the speakership. In the first of a series of speeches introducing himself as a national leader, Boehner spoke to the National Right to Life Committee in June.

Receiving the Defender of Life award from the group, Boehner said, “Respect for life has never been a political position for me. It just came naturally. It’s me. It’s what I believe. It’s what my parents instilled in me as I grew up in America. I think millions of Americans had a similar experience.”

He went on to say that “Americans love life, and we love freedom. They’re both intertwined, permanently, as part of the American character. America is a nation built on freedom. And without respect for life, freedom is in jeopardy.”

“When human life takes a back seat to other priorities — personal comforts, economics — freedom is diminished. By contrast, when we affirm the dignity of life, we affirm our commitment to freedom,” Boehner said.

On the health-care legislation, he pointed out that “the overwhelming opposition of the American people to taxpayer funding of abortion almost kept it from becoming law. The American people — and a bipartisan majority in the House — supported the Stupak amendment, which would have prohibited taxpayer funding of abortion through the health-care bill.”

The Stupak amendment was named for Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who led a coalition of pro-life Democrats in opposing the legislation unless it included an explicit prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion. In the end, however, Stupak agreed to vote for the bill in exchange for a promise from President Obama for an executive order prohibiting the funding. Many pro-life advocates criticized Stupak as foolishly consenting to a compromise that involved an executive order without the force of law.

Boehner said the health-care overhaul “wasn’t being driven by the will of the people; it was being driven by the will of special interests — radical special interests who believe the killing of unborn human life is ‘health care.’”

“Ultimately it became apparent to the White House and Democratic leaders that they couldn’t find the votes to kill the pro-life Stupak amendment. So they came up with a little maneuver,” Boehner continued. “Instead of heeding the will of the people and a bipartisan majority in the House, they crafted a disingenuous, last-minute executive order that they claimed eliminated the need for pro-life protections. The president issued the order, and White House aides indicated its enforcement would be a priority. That, sadly, was good enough for a handful of legislators, including Rep. Stupak himself, who prior to that point had mounted a courageous fight.

“But pro-life America didn’t buy it. They doubted the administration’s sincerity — and with good reason.”

Permanent Hyde Amendment

In the months following the passage of Obamacare, Boehner has consistently insisted that the administration provide progress reports on just how that executive order has been implemented, often to non-responses from the Department of Health and Human Services and the president himself.

When, in July, it was revealed that abortion funding was not, in fact, anathema to some states’ high-risk pools, Boehner increased the pressure on the administration, forcing Health and Human Services to issue a further regulation to safeguard taxpayer consciences from complicity in abortion funding.

During his National Right to Life Committee speech, Boehner said about abortion funding: “It’s time for Washington to stop defying the will of the American people on this critical, commonsense issue.”

Postgame analysts are insisting that the social issues weren’t issues this cycle, but the House Republican Pledge to America included plans to pass a permanent, universal Hyde Amendment, no small thing, in part in reaction to the promises made during the debate over abortion and health-care funding. In the months before the health-care legislation was passed, politicians who support legal abortion insisted that the Hyde Amendment already existed to protect against any kind of abortion funding. Not so, though. The Hyde Amendment, named after the late Henry Hyde, a Republican congressman from Illinois, only prohibits funding in one particular appropriations bill, which is subject to an annual fight. This pledge item would change that.

In his new book, Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street, and the Media, Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, argues that there is “enormous consensus” on the issue of abortion. Surveys done for the Knights by the Marist Poll found that eight out of 10 Americans “favor restrictions that would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy at most.” Additionally, underscoring the dynamic we saw this cycle with unprecedented number of pro-life women running for office, Anderson notes that “53 percent of Americans would limit abortion to cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of a mother — or would not allow it at all. Among women, the number is even higher — 55 percent.”

“People of faith turned out in the highest numbers in a midterm election we have ever seen, and they made an invaluable contribution to the historic results, including the election of a Republican majority in the House and significant gains in U.S. Senate seats, governorships, and hundreds of state legislative seats and local offices,” Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, pointed out the morning after Election Day. From a survey commissioned by his coalition, he highlighted “a 21-point advantage for GOP candidates for being pro-life and a 27-point advantage among white evangelicals versus all other white voters.”

That suggests that House Republicans are not just on the right track morally, but politically. Some House Democrats just learned that the hard way.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]