Column: Governor’s claim of reducing abortions deserves closer scrutiny

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

This week, I complete my answers to some of the questions that have arisen because of my comments on the nomination by President Obama of Governor Kathleen Sebelius to serve as the next secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS).

Q. Did not the policies of Governor Sebelius actually reduce abortions in Kansas?

A. It is true that the number of abortions declined in Kansas in the past six years, but they also declined throughout the nation. If Governor Sebelius wants to claim credit for reducing abortions in Kansas, then by the same logic she has to accept responsibility for the state’s huge budget problems. While the governor may have done some things that positively and negatively affected both of these events in Kansas, in actuality, the decrease in abortions and our current economic woes are part of a much bigger picture.

Certainly, the governor has supported some positive policies. For example, I have praised the governor for her support for incentives to promote adoption. Yet, in her career as a legislator and as the state’s chief executive, Governor Sebelius opposed such modest abortion legislation as parental notification for minors, informed consent and waiting periods, and improved regulations of abortion clinics. These are some of the more effective means permitted by the current parameters set by the Supreme Court for states to reduce abortions.

Indeed, Catholics serving in public life have an obligation to attempt to do what they can to limit and reduce abortion whenever possible. In his Encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” Pope John Paul II defended the morality of Catholic legislators working to limit abortions, but in the context of where their “absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well-known.” In the case of Governor Sebelius, the opposite is true. Her advocacy for legalized abortion is well-known and a matter of public record.

Q. Did not the governor support a Kansas program to assist women who are choosing life for their unborn child?

A. Yes and no. This program was already in place when Governor Sebelius was elected. Several years ago, she vetoed this program, citing the need to reduce state spending. The next year, when the Legislature passed the program by a veto-proof margin, she signed it. The governor’s proposed budget again eliminates this program in 2010. What the governor chooses to fund and not fund reveals her priorities.

Q. Are your comments about Governor Sebelius’ nomination to HHS a violation of the separation of church and state?

A. The anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment is meant to protect religious expression, not to limit it. Our Founding Fathers wished to prevent the state from intervening with the rights of churches. The Bill of Rights was an attempt to prevent the establishment of a state religion that would limit the free expression by other religious groups.

The bill introduced recently in the Connecticut Legislature, that would have empowered the state to restructure the internal governance of the church by taking away the administrative authority of pastors, is an excellent example of what our forefathers were trying to prevent. Our Constitution places no limits on the free expression of religious groups or religious leaders because they are religious.

The Catholic Church in the United States under the leadership of its first bishop, Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore, chose not to engage in partisan politics. Archbishop Carroll, as well as succeeding generations of American Catholic bishops, did not consider it prudent to tie the church’s credibility to any politician or political party. Thus, the church has requested that her pastors not engage in partisan politics by supporting particular candidates or political parties.

Q. Does the Church’s tax-exempt status limit the free expression of the church?

A. Yes. By accepting tax-exempt status, a church or any nonprofit accepts the limitation of not participating in partisan politics and is limited in the amount of resources that it can devote to lobbying. These tax-exempt restrictions correspond to the Catholic Church’s two-hundred-year-old internal policy not to endorse political candidates or parties. Similarly, a very small percentage of the Catholic Church’s resources are used for issue advocacy.

The church, however, has always cherished its right and responsibility to address public policy issues with a moral dimension. The church could never relinquish this right, even for the benefit of tax-exempt status.

My statements and pastoral actions pertaining to Governor Sebelius were to clarify Catholic teaching regarding the morality of abortion and its legalization. They obviously were not timed to affect an election. The church has a right and responsibility, when the secular media draws attention to a Catholic in public life because they are “pro-choice,” to clarify that support for legalized abortion is not consistent with Catholic moral teaching. I would fail in my responsibilities as a bishop if I permitted dissenting Catholics in public life, by their actions, and the secular media, by their reporting, to redefine Catholic orthodoxy.

Q. The defenders of Governor Sebelius claim that she accepts Catholic teaching because she maintains that she is personally opposed to abortion. Why is this not sufficient?

A. Governor Sebelius has been a featured speaker for Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States. She has been endorsed by Emily’s List, a political action committee that only supports candidates who support state-sanctioned abortion. Governor Sebelius has claimed that she has been a leader in keeping abortion legal. She has helped to raise funds for the Women’s Political Caucus whose first criterion for candidate endorsement is support for legalized abortion. In fact, the Women’s Political Caucus will not support a pro-life woman candidate and will even support a pro-abortion male candidate over a pro-life female candidate.

It is not acceptable for a Catholic to claim to be personally opposed to abortion while working to keep abortion legal. The Catholic Church opposes abortion because every abortion destroys an innocent human life, a truth understandable, purely through reason. It is not morally coherent to be personally opposed to the destruction of innocent human lives and at the same time support laws that protect abortionists and fail to protect innocent unborn children.

Conclusion: I hope that my answers to the preceding questions have provided you with a better understanding of my rationale and motivation for commenting on the nomination of Governor Sebelius to serve as the next secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services. I hope that this column and my previous one have equipped you to be able to discuss this matter more effectively with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. I encourage you again to pray for our governor. Pray for me, as well, that I might teach with clarity and love our Catholic faith and its implications upon the protection of the most fundamental of human rights.

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