Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sebelius pick shows Obama is no moderate on abortion

(Originally published 3/7/09)

After Tom Daschle's withdrawal from consideration to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I said on my blog that in selecting Daschle's replacement, President Obama would send a message to Americans about how moderate he really is. With health care reform behind only economic recovery on the president's agenda, the HHS chief will implement whatever changes Congress and the president enact.

Enter Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

In tapping Sebelius to lead HHS this week, Obama stoked the abortion debate and began what will likely be his most contentious Cabinet nomination fight.

Kansas leads the country in late-term abortions, primarily due to the practice of Dr. George Tiller. Tiller advertises on his web site that his Wichita clinic has "more experience in late abortion services over 24 weeks than anyone else currently practicing in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Australia."

Not surprisingly, Kansas has been the site of some of the most contentious abortion debates, and Sebelius, supported by abortion providers Planned Parenthood, has been in the middle of the maelstrom. She vetoed abortion restrictions in 2003, 2005 and 2006; last year, she killed the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, which would have strengthened late-term abortion laws and clarified Kansas’s parental notification law.

When Obama nominated Sebelius this week, CNN noted the "lightning rod" of controversy that erupted when Tiller and his staff attended a reception at the governor's mansion in 2007. Tiller reportedly "won" the reception at a charity auction. But it was hard to forget about when Sebelius vetoed legislation that would have severely restricted Tiller's practice –- and income.

Pro-lifers had no illusions that Obama, a strong supporter of abortion rights, would nominate one of their own to lead HHS. But neither did they expect that he would appoint someone like Sebelius.

But they should have. In his first week as president, Obama lifted the Mexico City Policy and cleared the way for American tax dollars to be used for abortion counseling and performance overseas. (Meanwhile, he's looking for ways to close the budget deficit.) No choice for American taxpayers there.

Last week, he signaled that he would rescind the "conscience rule," which allows healthcare workers to deny abortion counseling or other family-planning services if providing them would violate their moral beliefs. Forced to choose between providing abortions and closing, many Catholic hospitals -– which make up 13 percent of the country’s nearly 5,000 hospitals, employ more than 600,000 people and care for one in six patients hospitalized in America –- would choose the latter. How does that improve access to quality, affordable healthcare? But medical staff would have no choice.

This week, sponsors of the Freedom of Choice Act indicated that they intend to pursue the legislation, which would write into statute the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion and override state statutes regulating and restricting abortion. No choice for state lawmakers and governors –- or the citizens they represent –- there.

Obama ran for president on promises to build consensus, move beyond the politics of the past and forge new alliances to get things done for the American people. Those sound bites earned Obama a reputation as a moderate.

But in choosing Sebelius, Obama provided yet another exhibit in the case that on abortion, he is anything but.

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