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Shock Move

A huge row over abortion caused this senior US politician to quit today. Here's why...

House speaker John Boehner sensationally quit today. So what’s going on?

Earl Thompson / YouTube

AN AUDIENCE OF religious conservatives burst into applause at an event today at the news that Republican House Speaker John Boehner would be resigning from the US Congress at the end of next month.

The move follows a bitter political row centring on abortion and the Planned Parenthood healthcare organisation.

Essentially, he’s quitting in the face of hardline conservative opposition that threatens an institutional crisis in Washington.

So what’s going on?

The 13-term Ohio Republican, second in line to the presidency, shocked his party colleagues this morning when he announced his decision in a closed-door session.

It came one day after a high point of his political career – a historic speech by Pope Francis to Congress, at Boehner’s request.

A constant focus of conservatives’ complaints, Boehner was facing the threat of a ‘floor vote’ on whether he could stay on as speaker – a formal challenge that hasn’t happened in over 100 years.

That was being pushed by hardline tea party-ers convinced Boehner wasn’t fighting hard enough to strip the Planned Parenthood of government funds, even though doing so risked a government shutdown next week.

CNN / YouTube

So what is Planned Parenthood? 

Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organisation, started in New York almost a century ago, which has grown to become America’s largest reproductive and women’s health care provider.

It is also the country’s leading provider of abortions, performing 327,653 procedures from June 2013 to June 2014, in around 700 health centres throughout the US.

However, according to its own figures, that makes up just 3% of what Planned Parenthood does, with services relating sexually transmitted infections (STIs) comprising 42% and contraception 34%.

The issues of Planned Parenthood and abortion have returned to the top of the US political agenda recently, as a result of a series of controversial videos involving its practices of procuring fetal tissue for research purposes (you can find out more about the controversy here).

Boehner Resigning Associated Press Associated Press

As he told lawmakers today of his plan to resign, Boehner also announced plans to schedule a vote on a government funding bill that includes money for Planned Parenthood before next week’s deadline.

It will be likely to pass with Democratic support, notwithstanding conservative complaints.

Beating the deadline

With his relaxed and sociable demeanor, love of golf, and well-known tendency to cry in public, Boehner was widely popular among House Republicans.

Though he is also known as a strong conservative, his tactics were never confrontational enough to satisfy the most conservative faction in the House.

Boehner’s decision removes the possibility of a damaging vote to strip him of his speakership, a scenario that grew more likely amid the clamour over a possible shutdown.

CNN / YouTube

The Republican took over the speakership in January 2011.

His tenure has been defined by his early struggles to reach budget agreements with President Obama and his wrestling with the expectations of tea party conservatives who were dead-set against his tendencies toward deal-making.

Two years ago, conservatives drove him to reluctantly embrace a partial government shutdown in hopes of delaying implementation of Obama’s new healthcare law.

The tactic was unsuccessful.

Nonetheless, tea party lawmakers had been pressing him to retry the tactic to try to take away federal funding from Planned Parenthood.


The ‘standing ovation’ reception to his decision to quit happened at a gathering of religious conservatives, in Washington for the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit.

“I’m not here to bash anyone,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio told the crowd as he announced his GOP colleague’s decision.

“But the time has come to turn the page.”

President Barack Obama called the speaker “a good man” and a patriot.

With reporting from Associated Press. 

Read: Where else are abortion laws as strict as in Ireland? >

Read: When Francis met Barack: Here’s what the Pope spoke about during his White House visit

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