WASHINGTON — President Obama’s nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to his cabinet has sparked a fierce response from Catholics who take exception to her militant pro-abortion views.

Although the governor is almost certain to be confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), pro-life forces were determined to make the president fight for his nominee.

Gov. Sebelius is one of the few Catholic politicians publicly disciplined by her own bishop for her pro-abortion activities. In 2008, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., made public his request that the governor refrain from receiving the Eucharist.

Sebelius refused to comment on the matter. Beth Martino, the governor’s press secretary and communications director, told the Register in an e-mail:

“The governor’s faith is personal and private. Her communication with Archbishop Naumann regarding matters of her faith also is personal.”

Communion is a public act, and Archbishop Naumann’s statement to Sebelius is public. In it, he asks her to refrain from Communion until she has “acknowledged the error of her past positions, made a worthy sacramental confession, and taken the necessary steps for amendment of her life, which would include a public repudiation of her previous efforts and actions in support of laws and policies sanctioning abortion.”

Archbishop Naumann told the Register, “I think if Governor Sebelius was going to be appointed to a cabinet post, from my point of view, this is the worst possible one that she could have been appointed to. It’s a very important position, and, in some ways, a dangerous position. I think in particular of the role she will have in formulating the health-care reform of the president.”

The governor has a long history of opposing any restrictions on abortions. While serving as a state representative from 1987 to 1995, she opposed informed consent, parental notification, and reflection periods. In a report prepared for the American Life League, attorneys Clarke Forsythe and Denise Burke point to her routine opposition, as governor, to abortion-accountability bills, “including medically supported clinic regulation legislation, which she vetoed in both 2003 and 2005. The need for this critical legislation was predicated, in large part, on evidence of shocking conditions in Kansas abortion clinics.”

“She says she always wants to keep abortion legal, rare and safe,” observed Archbishop Naumann. “Well, it’s never safe for the child, but in Kansas, we have some disgraceful conditions in abortion clinics. She has shown greater interest in trying to protect abortionists than in protecting mothers and, certainly, unborn children.”

As recently as 2008, she vetoed measures that would strengthen parental notification laws and require explicit medical reasons for late-term abortions.

Swift Reaction

The response to the nomination from Catholic and pro-life organizations has been swift. “By seeking to elevate the governor to his cabinet,” said Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, “the president has betrayed at best indifference and at worst contempt for the concerns of faithful Catholics who recognize that our faith is utterly incompatible with support for abortion.”

“The American people will not stand for Sebelius’ disturbing and radical record of promoting abortion on demand,” said Judie Brown of the American Life League. “Sebelius, governor of Kansas — the late-term abortion capital of the world — is a threat to the health and well-being of our country, and her appointment must be stopped.”

The American Life League is hosting an online petition at their website, ALL.org, which has already gathered thousands of supporters.

The main concern for Catholics and pro-life advocates is what kind of power the HHS secretary will wield on life issues. Sebelius would be involved in policies that may eliminate the right of Catholic hospitals and health-care workers to decline to perform procedures that go against their faith and consciences.

Other pressing issues that will come before the secretary will be the push to make over-the-counter abortifacients available to minors without the consent of a doctor or parent, and the continued use of RU-486, which has killed several women since its approval by the Food and Drug Administration under President Clinton.

Some groups, such as Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, have lined up to defend and justify the Sebelius nomination. Catholics United released a letter in support of the president’s choice with the signatures of 26 prominent Catholics, such as Douglas Kmiec, Jesuit Father Thomas Reese and Nicholas Cafardi.

The letter states: “Governor Sebelius is a woman of deep faith with a proud family history of public service. We believe [her] record of building the common good, reforming immigration laws, improving schools, innovating health-care solutions, and significantly reducing the abortion rate in Kansas makes her an excellent candidate for HHS secretary.”

The statement applauds her support for the Pregnancy Maintenance Initiative, which helps crisis-pregnancy centers, and an increase in the adoption tax credit. They also cite her support of Alexa’s Law, which defines a child as “a fetus at any state of gestation from fertilization to birth” for the purpose of criminal prosecution when pregnant women are murdered.

Sebelius has characterized herself as being pro-life. In a 2006 address at the Kansans for Faithful Citizenship Conference, Sebelius said, “My Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred, and, personally, I believe abortion is wrong. However, I disagree with the suggestion that criminalizing women and their doctors is an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing the number of abortions in our nation.”

But Archbishop Naumann is candid in his assessment of the governor’s “pro-life pro-choice” bona fides: “She likes to take credit for the reduction in abortions here in Kansas. In fact, I think she had nothing to do with it, and some of the actions she took tried to prevent it. She takes credit for what a lot of pro-life efforts have accomplished. Actually, the reduction of the rate of abortion is much greater in neighboring Missouri than it has been here. It’s very unfortunate that there are some groups who are doing this promotional effort for her.”

In particular, the archbishop points to the governor’s past deletion of the Pregnancy Maintenance Initiative from the budget. She only allowed it to return when the Legislature passed it by a veto-overriding majority.

But in preparing the 2010 budget, she has once again deleted this item, cited by supporters as evidence of her pro-life credentials.

Schuttloffel, of the Kansas Catholic Conference, maintained that the decision to have a pro-abortion secretary of Health and Human Services was “made not in the last couple weeks, but on Nov. 4, 2008.”

“While Governor Sebelius may be particularly dedicated to defending even the most extreme forms of abortion, there is, sadly, no possibility that someone with pro-life views could be nominated to oversee health care in this administration,” he said. “The United States Senate may choose to confirm or block Governor Sebelius, but it cannot change the unfortunate fact that the next secretary of Health and Human Services will surely be a staunch advocate for abortion.”

Thomas L. McDonald writes

from Medford, New Jersey.