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Despite endorsement by some, Sebelius ‘unfit’ for HHS role, pro-life leaders say

WASHINGTON (BP)–Fifteen Christian leaders, some identified as evangelicals, have endorsed Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ nomination to the federal government’s top health post even as state and national pro-life organizations contend her opposition to restrictions on abortion makes her unworthy of the office.

President Obama announced his nomination of Sebelius, a Democrat, as secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) March 2. On the same day, the Christian leaders released a statement in support of Sebelius on the basis of “her record of reducing abortions and supporting women and families in Kansas.”

Released under the auspices of the left-of-center organization Faith in Public Life, the statement said “abortions have decreased in Kansas by 10 percent, adoption funding and incentives have increased, healthcare access for women and families has expanded, prenatal care has become more widely available, and legislation protecting the unborn from crime has become law” during Sebelius’ leadership as governor. She was first elected as governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.

The signers, who say they are “dedicated to finding common ground solutions to reduce the number of abortions in America,” included evangelicals Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; David Gushee, ethics professor at Mercer University in Atlanta, Ga., and Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Northland, Fla.

The contention Sebelius should be credited with working to reduce abortions is misleading at best, said the head of a Kansas pro-life organization.

“[A]bortions in Kansas went down in spite of, not in any way because of Kathleen Sebelius and any suggestion otherwise is purposely deceptive and insulting given her long and extreme pro-abortion record,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, in a March 2 statement.

Culp rejected the notion Sebelius willingly signed pro-life bills into law. “She has never, ever worked for such legislation, and only signed it when forced to,” Culp said.

Sebelius “only signed pro-life legislation when veto-proof majorities were bearing down on her, or as in 2005 when she signed two bills less threatening to her supporters, in order to use all her political [capital] to heavily and successfully lobby two Democrat state representatives to change their votes and sustain her veto of a clinic licensing bill adamantly opposed” by late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, said Culp.

Tiller’s Wichita clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, is a major reason Kansas has been described as “the late-term abortion capital of America.” It advertises on its website it has “more experience in late abortion services over 24 weeks than anyone else currently practicing in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Australia.” Tiller is scheduled to go on trial March 16 on 19 misdemeanor counts stemming from a charge of failing to obtain another independent doctor’s opinion before performing a late-term abortion.

Among the national pro-life organizations, some evangelical in nature and leadership, that have expressed their opposition to Sebelius’ nomination are the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and Americans United for Life (AUL).

“This is one more indication that President Obama is deadly serious about implementing his radical pro-choice views in our government,” ERLC President Richard Land told Baptist Press. “There are very few places in our government where a pro-choice advocate can have more influence than as secretary of Health and Human Services.”

Sebelius, Americans United for Life says, is “unfit to serve” as secretary of HHS, a post in which she would be able “to profoundly influence American healthcare including federal and state policies regarding abortion, healthcare rights of conscience, bioethics and biotechnologies, and end-of-life issues.”

In its evaluation of Sebelius’ record, AUL reported:

— She vetoed in both 2003 and 2005 legislation that would have regulated abortion clinics, thereby providing safety and health protections for women.

— Sebelius vetoed in 2008 a bill that would have bolstered Kansas’ parental notification law.

— She vetoed during the last three years measures that would have: mandated clear medical reasons be provided for late-term abortions; required doctors to explain the basis for post-viability abortions; and strengthened the prosecution of violators of current bans on late-term abortions.

As a state representative from 1987 to 1995, Sebelius “voted to weaken or eliminate even such modest abortion-related measures as parental notification, reflection periods and informed consent,” according to AUL.

Sebelius’ nomination will be difficult to stop in the Senate. Even one of the chamber’s leading pro-life advocates, Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., congratulated Sebelius on her nomination. In a statement released with fellow Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, also of Kansas, Brownback said he looked forward to working with her. U.S. News & World Report’s Dan Gilgoff reported March 6 that Brownback associates have been telling pro-lifers that it’s best to get Sebelius out of Kansas because she was expected to run in 2010 for U.S. Senate to fill Brownback’s seat, which he is vacating. Without her running, the logic goes, the seat likely will remain in Republican hands.

The nomination of Sebelius, who, like Brownback, is Roman Catholic, did not produce a warm welcome from Joseph Naumann, the archbishop of Kansas City, Kan.

“[H]er appointment at Health and Human services is particularly troubling because of the importance of that position and particularly the influence the secretary there will have on conscience rights as well as the healthcare reform,” Naumann said in a March 4 interview with Our Sunday Visitor, a weekly Catholic newspaper. “One of the frightening things about the proposed healthcare reform could be the inclusion of abortion as a fundamental right as part of the healthcare package, and it could really put Catholic doctors, nurses and healthcare institutions in a real bind.”

Naumann urged Sebelius in both 2007 and 2008 not to present herself for communion because of her support for abortion rights. It is his understanding Sebelius has not taken communion in the archdiocese since his request in May, Naumann said.

At that time, Naumann said he had met with Sebelius “several times over many months to discuss with her the grave spiritual and moral consequences of her public actions by which she has cooperated in the procurement of abortions performed in Kansas,” the archbishop wrote in the archdiocese’s newspaper.

Sebelius’ contention she is personally opposed to abortion is unacceptable, Naumann said. “It’s not a morally coherent position to say, ‘I’m personally opposed but publicly I’m going to do all of these things that support abortion,'” he told Our Sunday Visitor.

In addition to Rodriguez, Sider, Gushee and Hunter, other signers of the Faith in Public Life statement in support of Sebelius’ nomination included Glen Stassen, ethics professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University and former general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee; Paul De Vries, president of New York Divinity School and a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals; and emergent church leaders Brian McLaren and Tony Jones. Gushee formerly served as an ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Union University.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.