The Corner

Speaker for Life

Sorry for reusing a title.

John Boehner is in Pittsburgh right now delivering a speech to the National Right to Life Committee’s convention there. His speech is a powerful indictment of the Obama administration, a simple, concrete plan toward a solution, and a humble witness to an essential fight of our political lives. If we don’t value human life, freedom loses its value.

Anyway, here’s the speech, as prepared:

I’m deeply, deeply honored to be here with you today. 

I know the program says I’m here to accept an award.  But really, it isn’t my work we should be celebrating here today; it’s YOUR work we should be celebrating.  It’s the collective energy of the National Right to Life Committee and its state affiliates throughout America that has made the real difference. 

I want to thank each and every person in this room for the leadership and sacrifice you’ve demonstrated in your communities.

To be recognized by those who have devoted their lives to defending life is a true badge of honor.  Truly awe-inspiring.  I’m humbled, and inspired, by your confidence in me. 

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.

I grew up in a small house in Cincinnati with a big family – 11 brothers and sisters.

It wasn’t easy for my mom to have 12 children.  But I’m glad she did.

My parents sent all 12 of us to Catholic schools.  It wasn’t easy for them to do that; believe me, our family could have used the money for a lot of other things.  But it was important to them that we got a good education.  And for them, a good education meant more than just the ABCs and 1-2-3s.  It was also important that we learned about deeper values.  Respect for life was at the top of that list.

I’ve thought a lot about this speech and what I’m going to say here.  And as I went through that process, I realized a few things about who I am, and who I think we are as a people.

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.

These are fundamentals in the American experience.  And they have real implications for government and those who are entrusted with power.

For elected leaders, it means we should always err on the side of life.

It means we must always respect the dignity of life, at all stages – from conception and birth, to the end of life, and everything in between.

It means we have a moral obligation to defend the defenseless. And there is nothing more defenseless, or more innocent, or more pure, than an unborn baby.

The defense of life and the defense of freedom are necessarily linked.  We know this to be true.  And if we accept it, then the current political agenda in Washington is a threat to freedom.

As Governor Bob McDonnell, the new governor of Virginia, said in his response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in January: “America must always be a land where liberty and property are valued and respected, and innocent human life is protected.”

I never sought to be recognized as a leader of the movement.  Never wore my pro-life credentials on my sleeve. 

I was what you might call a quiet warrior.  I just voted for what I thought was right, and stood up for what I thought was right, like all of you do every day. 

But over the past few years, I’ve been compelled to raise my voice; to speak out a little more loudly. 

When you look at the agenda being pursued in Washington, if you believe in the right to life, being quiet isn’t good enough.  We don’t have the luxury of being “quiet.” 

If you look at what’s going on, there’s a constant tearing down of walls – walls that have stood as the last line of defense for the unborn in the decades since Roe v. Wade.

In retrospect, no one should be surprised.  The warning signs were there all along. 

Before being elected as our 44th president, Senator Barack Obama spoke at the national convention of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortion.  He endorsed the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade, and promised to make its enactment a priority for his administration if elected president. 

During the president’s first week in office, on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I and 114 other House Republicans sent the president a letter urging him to withdraw his pledge to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, or “FOCA,” into law.

Our tone was respectful.  Our message was one of hope.

The letter stated: “Americans from all walks of life have been touched by your pledge to govern from the center, and by your vow to be a president for all Americans. . .You’ve expressed a desire to be a president for all Americans, and to use your presidency to promote initiatives that bring Americans together, rather than drive them apart.” 


And we asked him, respectfully, to withdraw his pledge to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.


We never got a response to that letter from the president – not in writing, anyway. 

But in the 18 months since the letter was sent, we’ve gotten our answer.  And tragically, the answer has come through the administration’s own actions.  The FOCA agenda is being implemented, incrementally, step by tragic step.

In the first few months of his presidency, President Obama took at least three separate actions weakening American rules that were meant to safeguard the sanctity of human life.

He repealed the Mexico City Policy that prevents taxpayer dollars from going to international family planning organizations that promote – and sometimes provide – abortion overseas.    

He took it upon himself to create federal incentives to destroy human embryos – taking this action at a time when science is demonstrating that the true potential of stem cell research lies in the type of stem cell research that does not require the destruction of living human embryos.  

And he weakened conscience protections that protect doctors and nurses who decline to provide abortions for moral reasons.

Most of those actions were announced late on a Friday afternoon.  In Washington, a Friday afternoon announcement is code that you want to hide something.

These were the start of a pattern we’ve seen repeated throughout this administration.  In the latest instance, the Obama administration is moving to allow abortions on military bases. 

It’s sadly ironic – and profoundly disturbing – that our government would endorse the destruction of innocent American lives on the same soil our men and women walk each and every day in defense of freedom and liberty. 

It undermines everything the fine men and women of our military are fighting for. 

And then, of course, there’s the president’s massive health care overhaul – ObamaCare. 

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. 

This presented a huge problem for the President and the Democratic leadership.  Because 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 destruction 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. 

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. 

We’re three months into implementation of the new health care law – and as far as anyone can tell, the administration hasn’t lifted a finger to enforce the president’s Executive Order on abortion. 

Secretary Sebelius sent a cheery “progress report” on Obamacare’s implementation to Congress in May that made no mention of the Executive Order.  When I questioned her about it, she said only that the administration is “working on it.” 

Several more weeks went by after that, without any apparent action.  So two weeks ago, at the White House, I asked President Obama about it personally.  Everyone in the room heard me ask the question.  But we’re all still waiting for an answer.

I say all this with great sadness.  Sadness for the unborn, absolutely.  But also sadness for our nation. 

These policies do not unite America.  They divide America.  And in the coming months, America must decide whether we’re going to allow it to continue.

We recently launched an initiative called America Speaking Out, aimed at engaging the American people directly in the process of crafting new governing agenda for Congress.  One of the tools is a website,, that allows every American to log on, submit ideas, and vote on ideas submitted by other Americans.

I encourage everyone in this room – go to, and tell your neighbors about it.  Use it to get engaged in your government. 

One of my all-time heroes in the House is Congressman Henry Hyde, the late representative from Illinois. 

Part of Henry’s legacy, as you know, is the Hyde amendment, which prohibits Congress from appropriating taxpayer funds for abortion. 

One of the many ideas being discussed right now on America Speaking Out is the idea of codifying the Hyde Amendment so that it applies to all federal funding, whether those funds are appropriated by Congress or authorized by Congress.

I believe this must be the next objective for pro-life America.  It’s clear from the health care debate that the American people don’t want their tax dollars paying for abortion, and a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives agrees.  It’s the will of the people, and it ought to be the law of the land – right now.

I’m pleased to announce today that Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey will be introducing legislation to accomplish this goal.  I intend to be an original cosponsor of the bill.  And once it is introduced, I will call on Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer to bring it to an immediate vote. 

It’s time for Washington to stop defying the will of the American people on this critical, common-sense issue.

I also believe we need to repeal the health care bill and start over on common sense reforms that will lower health care costs for families and protect the sanctity of all human life.

Our nation was built on ideas that came directly from the people – people who took an active interest in their government.

Americans today need to be engaged, because the people running our government haven’t been listening.  And if the failure to listen continues, the consequences could be catastrophic.

It will mean two more years in which Planned Parenthood, EMILY’s List and other radical groups determine the direction of our government, while the voices of pro-life Americans are shut out. 

It will mean two more years of Supreme Court appointments for activist judges who didn’t think Roe v. Wade was radical enough.

It could set back the cause of life for decades.

As we look ahead to the future, we need to know who the defenders of life really are.  No one gets a pass when it comes to life. 

The thwarting of the Stupak amendment was a signal moment for pro-life America.  It reminded us that while any politician can say he or she is “pro-life,” actions speak louder than words. 

The lesson: get involved in your government.  Speak out.  Find out where your legislators and would-be legislators stand. 

Is your Member of Congress committed to the defense of life?  Or is it negotiable? 

Is your Member of Congress truly dedicated to protecting the unborn?  Or can he or she be swayed by the offer of a pork-barrel project, or a new government program, or the promise of a plum committee assignment? 

This is the time to know the answer to these questions.  This is when it matters.

You invited me here to give me an award, and I gratefully accept it.  But let’s be clear: the true leaders are sitting out there in the crowd right now.  What I do matters less than what you do.

I mentioned Henry Hyde earlier, and I want to close by mentioning him again, for a couple of reasons.

First, Henry was my friend, and probably the colleague I most admired during my two decades in the House. 

Second, the examples that Henry set, in the way conducted himself, and in the way he defended life, are examples WE must follow.

Henry was at peace in the presence of others – even those who disagreed with him most – because of his unshakeable faith in the sanctity of every human life.

And when Henry died a few years ago, I had the great honor of being asked to speak at his memorial service. 

I recall some of my words then: treating everyone with dignity and respect came naturally to Henry.  Not just because he was kind and full of decency, but because he truly believed all human life is precious.

Henry was right.  There is no cause more noble than the defense of human life.  There is no mission more critical.  No debate more urgent. 

You know this in your hearts, or you wouldn’t be here today.  And from the bottom of my heart – thank you for this honor, and thanks for all you do to defend freedom, and defend life. 

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