Despite Pro-Life Pressure, Abortion Not an Issue for Sebelius

Given that she's the nominee for America's top health post, one might expect abortion to be a hot issue in the confirmation process of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Not so. Pro-life activists have blasted Sebelius for her pro-choice stance, and her dust up with Kansas City's archbishop has drawn some attention, but Republican senators have not asked her about the issue once during her confirmation process (other than a question about the RU-486 "abortion pill"), which has included a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee today and a courtesy visit to the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee earlier this week.

At least one pro-life organization isn't pleased.

The Susan B. Anthony List had released a joint statement today with other conservative groups blasting Sebelius over abortion and her nearly $8,000 in back-taxes. After today's hearing, where abortion, again, did not come up, the group lambasted the "abortion heroes" on the Senate Finance Committee for their silence. A harshly worded statement from the group's president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, read:

Today's Senate Finance Committee Hearing was an important opportunity to enlighten public debate about Governor Kathleen Sebelius' egregious record on abortion in her home state of Kansas.  Yet despite the deep bench of pro-life heroes serving on the Senate Finance Committee, not one Senator could manage to ask a single question publicly about Sebelius' blind eye toward women's health and regulating abortion clinics.

The one Senator who had access to deep knowledge about happenings in his own home state [Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)] said nothing.  This is a matter of life and death.  The tradition of senatorial courtesy would not have been violated with the asking of one question.  Maintaining good relations is not the ultimate value in the abortion debate.  Americans deserve to know why Kansas women were denied tougher safety standards in abortion clinics when Sebelius vetoed legislation to improve conditions.  One Topeka abortion clinic even stored fetal remains next to food.  And yet, Sebelius continued to block tougher safety standards.

This is why Americans lose faith in their elected officials.  They elect candidates who share and articulate well their 'deeply held' beliefs. Then when the candidate becomes an incumbent, he or she fails to effectively act upon those beliefs when given a chance to do so.

As Dannenfelser went on to point out, GOP senators had one last chance to raise the abortion issue, in written questions that had to be submitted by 5 p.m. tonight. And Finance Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA), for instance, asked several.

But there doesn't seem to be much interest in making a big deal of abortion before the Senate votes on Sebelius's nomination. Perhaps GOP senators just don't want to argue about such an emotional and controversial issue with a nominee who will probably be confirmed. Perhaps the tax issues have overshadowed all else. Or perhaps they just don't see the point.

"Everyone pretty much realizes that anyone he [President Obama] nominates is going to be pro-choice," one Republican Senate staffer told me. "What's the point of beating up a nominee" over abortion given that fact, the staffer said.

"The idea is that she...will follow the president's direction on policy, and since he's been pretty clear about his position on abortion rights, maybe she would just match his views," another GOP staffer told me. "In other words, she'd just carry out his policy."

I haven't seen written questions from any other GOP senators, and it's unclear whether anyone will raise the abortion issue further before Sebelius sees a confirmation vote by the Senate. But most likely, pro-life groups will continue to be disappointed.