Cause for concern

Sebelius nomination distressing to archbishop, local pro-life movement

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As Gov. Kathleen Sebelius departs for a probable Cabinet position in the Obama administration, she leaves with a prayer from her archbishop — and hopes for her reform of conscience.

“We pray for her and for all Catholic politicians, that they can return, first of all, to their properly formed conscience and their faith,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.

On March 2, President Barack Obama announced that Sebelius, a Catholic who has served as governor since 2003, was his nominee to become secretary of Health and Human Services. This is a key position, since universal health care is one of the president’s chief goals.

Sebelius is Obama’s second choice for the job. Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination after questions arose about taxes and his activities as a consultant.

Sebelius’s supporters are lauding her nomination, calling her a “right fit” because of her experience and decisions regarding insurance and health care in Kansas. Pro-life groups, however, have reacted with dismay.

While recognizing her many accomplishments, the archbishop said he can’t agree with those who feel the governor is a good fit for Health and Human Services.

“I think it’s a particularly bad fit,” he said, “because it will place her in a position where she will have to be involved in issues of abortion policy and also issues that relate to embryonic stem-cell research.”

“These are the very issues where she has found herself in morally treacherous territory by her past actions,” he continued. “And I’m afraid that this will be another occasion for her to renew her history of support for legalized abortion and her support for this intrinsic evil.”

Governor Sebelius’s veto of the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act of 2008, part of a 20-year history of supporting easy access to abortion, led Archbishop Naumann to take pastoral action. He asked her to “refrain from presenting herself for reception of the Eucharist until she had acknowledged the error of her past positions and made a worthy sacramental confession.”

Sebelius also earned a rebuke from Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker in 1992 and Archbishop James P. Keleher in 2003.

Sebelius has pointed to pro-life legislation she signed as governor, and says her record shows that the number of abortions in the state has declined during her administration.

But there’s more to the story, say Kansas pro-life advocates.

“Governor Kathleen Sebelius only signed pro-life legislation when veto-proof majorities were bearing down on her, or, as in 2005, when she signed two bills that were less threatening to her supporters,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life.

The list of pro-life legislation she vetoed or used her influence to block is much longer, said Culp. Even more telling is the thousands of dollars that abortion providers and abortion advocates have poured into her campaigns. To Culp, one photo says it all.

The photo was taken during a private party at the governor’s mansion in April 2007. In this photo, Sebelius is holding up a T-shirt that celebrated the electoral victories of herself, the lieutenant governor, and the attorney general: “TRIFECTA, Sebelius, Parkinson, Morrison.”

In the photo, Sebelius is pointing to the man who gave her the T-shirt — Dr. George Tiller, the nationally famous late-term abortionist from Wichita.

Many are concerned that Sebelius will promote her pro-abortion views in the larger and more powerful entity of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Our concern lies in the fact that the governor’s staunch, pro-abortion views are well-known,” said Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

“And in her new capacity, if she is confirmed by the Senate,” he said, “she’ll bring those views to bear on health care policy, which is an important component of abortion policy.”

Sebelius faces a number of challenges, said Schuttloffel. She’s no political novice, but she doesn’t have the Washington connections and savvy of Tom Daschle. Also, she won’t have as much clout as Daschle would have had as both HHS secretary and “health czar” in the Office for Health Reform.

“I think another major challenge for her is that it’s March 3, and she’s not secretary of HHS yet,” said Schuttloffel. “A lot of the important decisions have already been made about the direction of the Obama administration. The president has already submitted his budget to Congress.”

Sebelius’ nomination should be viewed in the context of other Obama administration appointments, said David O’Steen, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Right to Life Committee.

“I believe [President Obama appointed Sebelius] because she is ideologically aligned with him,” said O’Steen. “And I truly believe that abortion and promotion of abortion is [Obama’s] priority and hers — the protection and promotion of abortion.”

“You have to look at the whole picture,” he continued. “This administration surrounded itself not only with people who are pro-abortion — who go down on that side — but people who are active in the pro-abortion movement.”

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The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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