You might have heard the saying that one should “take a man at his word.” Indeed, a woman, too.

President Obama last week offered words in his speech to Congress that many have been waiting to hear: “Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”

The plan of course is the health care reform legislation wending its way through Congress now.

Obama’s point-person on health policy in the administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, did not back away from this presidential pledge. She amplified it in an exchange last Sunday with commentator George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. Responding to his direct question of whether the president would “explicitly rule out any public funding for abortion,” Sebelius replied, “that’s what (Obama) intends that the bill he signs will do.”

In this season of political discontent as red hot as any in memory, one ought to take the president and the secretary at their word.

Cynics might give no credit for principled words. That would be a shame, because those publicly spoken words resulted from much effective public persuasion over many months through millions of expressions of the popular will to deny abortion funding and retain conscience protections for health care providers.

The pro-life message rings loud, clear, courageous and persistent. Led by the voice of Catholic bishops of this country and echoed by ordinary citizens, the message goes out to politicians to support “truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity,” as the bishops said. (Read their entire statement at

This small victory for all those mobilized in the cause to protect innocent human life and dignity does not mean such protection will make it into the final bill. If it is traded away in order to obtain some other provision, it would not be the first time principles were sacrificed for political expediency.

But that remains to be seen. For now, we have a pledge by the president that was confirmed by his top health aide. We ought to take them at their word. People of good will should keep up the pressure to work for a law that strengthens and improves health care in America and retains protections for the unborn. Accomplishing both is a noble and necessary goal worthy of a great nation.

Until then, the words pronounced by a previous president should find resonance today: “Trust, but verify.”