In many ways, I can understand why President Obama selected Governor Sebelius. As I have acknowledged on several other occasions, she is a very bright and gifted leader. In many important areas, she represents well Catholic social teaching. She has advocated for more affordable housing for the poor, she has worked to expand access to health care for economically disadvantaged children, and she has supported incentives encouraging adoption.It's certainly not unprecedented for a Catholic cleric to criticize a Catholic politician for her stance on abortion rights. Just ask Nancy Pelosi, who received a similarly stern reprimand from Pope Benedict in February. This is also not the first occasion on which Sebelius and Naumann have been at odds. In May, following the governor's veto of a bill that would have exposed abortion providers to lawsuits, Naumann called publicly for Sebelius to refrain from receiving communion.
Yet, on the fundamental moral issue of protecting innocent human life, Governor Sebelius, throughout her career, has been an outspoken advocate for legalized abortion. For this reason, her appointment to HHS is particularly troubling.
But Naumann's criticisms seem more pointed now that Sebelius is poised to become one of the country's top ranking health officials, reflecting a broader debate among Catholics over the political implications of her nomination. While progressive groups like Catholics United are championing Sebelius's past efforts to expand social services for pregnant women and promote alternatives to abortion, conservative organizations like the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights are furious with her opposition to late-term abortion restrictions and parental consent laws. It's a debate that could have fascinating repercussions for two prominent public officials: on the one hand, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, a fellow Catholic who has come out in support of Sebelius's nomination; and on the other side, President Obama, who garnered increased support among Catholic voters in November and has been trying to stay clear of any religious or cultural minefields during his efforts to rally support for an economic recovery agenda.
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