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Panel OKs Sebelius despite Tiller donations

WASHINGTON (BP)–A U.S. Senate committee approved April 21 the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services in spite of her underreporting of campaign contributions from the country’s most notorious abortion doctor.

The Finance Committee voted 15-8 to forward Sebelius’ nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Two Republicans, Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Olympia Snowe of Maine, joined all 13 of the panel’s Democrats in support of Sebelius.

The Senate is expected to confirm Sebelius despite the efforts of leading pro-life advocates. National organizations that have opposed Sebelius’ nomination include the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, American Family Association and Americans United for Life.

Most pro-life leaders opposed President Obama’s nomination of Sebelius upon his announcement March 2, citing concerns about her potential impact as secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on abortion and other life issues, as well as on the conscience rights of health-care workers.

Some Republican senators appeared to join the opposition to the Democratic governor’s nomination when it was revealed that Sebelius had significantly understated the political donations she had received from late-term abortion doctor George Tiller.

After Sebelius originally reported $12,450 in contributions from Tiller and others affiliated with the doctor, it was disclosed that total donations actually were $39,600, according to The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal. Almost two-thirds went to her political action committee, the newspaper reported. After the disclosure, Sebelius told the Finance Committee it was “an inadvertent omission,” according to the report.

Two pro-life organizations, Family Research Council and Operation Rescue, later reported they had obtained a letter from Tiller showing he had contributed an additional $200,000 to a political action committee seeking defeat of Sebelius’ pro-life opponent in her first race for governor in 2002. She also hosted a reception at the governor’s mansion that included Tiller and his staff.

After her nomination, Sebelius acknowledged mistakes on past income tax returns and paid nearly $8,000 in taxes and penalties.

ERLC President Richard Land said in response to the committee’s vote, “It’s disappointing the president would choose someone for Health and Human Services who has been a recipient of such large donations from Dr. Tiller, perhaps the most infamous abortionist in the country, and a nominee who would hold a reception at the governor’s mansion that included him.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, a Finance Committee member, said he re-examined his support for Sebelius after learning of “her inexplicable omission” of contributions from Tiller.

“My service in Congress has always been based on the conviction that life is sacred,” Hatch said in a written statement after the panel’s vote. “My strong beliefs in the sanctity of life simply made it impossible for me to support [her] nomination.”

Sen. Jon Kyl, R.-Ariz., explained to the committee his vote against Sebelius was based on her refusal to support patient rights. She failed to give him any assurance HHS would not use “comparative effectiveness research” (CER) to deny coverage. Critics of CER say it will lead to health-care decisions based on cost effectiveness instead of clinical effectiveness, thereby leading to the withholding of health care for some patients.

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 that it has “more experience in late abortion services over 24 weeks than anyone else currently practicing in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Australia.” Women travel to his clinic from throughout the United States and various foreign countries in order to have late-term abortions.

Tiller was acquitted in March of 19 misdemeanor counts stemming from a charge of failing to obtain another independent doctor’s opinion before performing a late-term abortion.

Americans United for Life, a leading pro-life legal organization, said after Sebelius’ nomination she is “unfit to serve” as secretary of HHS because:

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

— She 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 1987-95, Sebelius “voted to weaken or eliminate even such modest abortion-related measures as parental notification, reflection periods and informed consent,” according to AUL.

In both 2007 and 2008, Sebelius, a Roman Catholic, was urged by her archbishop, Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., not to present herself for communion because of her support for abortion rights.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.