The Sebelius Nomination

The nomination of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has done more to ignite the intra-Catholic culture wars even than President Obama’s decision to reverse the Mexico City policy. As the announcement neared, Catholic partisans of all varieties took to the airwaves and the blogosphere denouncing or praising Sebelius extravagantly. Where is the truth? Is this a fine appointment or a disaster?

I confess to being ambivalent about Governor Sebelius. I take her at her word when she says she vetoed legislation that would have restricted abortion in Kansas because it was unconstitutional and would provoke needless but costly litigation. The veto was what caused Archbishop Joseph Naumann to publicly call on the Governor to refrain from presenting herself for communion. Naumann’s heavy-handedness inclines me to sympathize with the Governor, and to welcome her to a different archdiocese where our local ordinary does not impose a blanket policy of denying communion to anyone. A member of the Episcopal bench described Naumann’s interventions at last November’s USCCB meeting as "persistent," which is a polite way of saying "over-the-top."

Advertisement

I am also inclined to support Sebelius given the excessiveness with which she has been denounced. A statement from Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said this was another instance of President Obama "appointing pro-abortion extremists" and that "Governor Sebelius never met an abortion she didn’t support." I have difficulty believing an "extremist" of any stripe can get elected Governor of wholesome Kansas twice, still less earn the laudatory comments she received this weekend from uber-convert, and pro-life champion, Sen. Sam Brownback. And, I suppose Mr. Ruse has no idea that Gov. Sebelius supports any particular choice to abort at all, even while she most definitely supports giving women the right to make that choice. Critics would be more convincing if they at least acknowledged that Sebelius has tried alternate ways to lower the abortion rate and, according to most news accounts, succeeded in lowering it nine percent during her tenure.

Gov. Sebelius has been dogged by the accusation that she hosted a notorious practicioner of partial-birth abortion, Dr. George Tiller, at the Governor’s mansion. But, according to Ezra Klein at the American Prospect, Tiller evidently won the invite as part of a fundraiser so this was not exactly an intimate dinner for two where Sebelius and Tiller could plan how to promote abortion. The efforts to dress it up as such are insulting. Still, while almost every liberal Catholic activist I know has sent me an email in the last three days with a link to the Klein story, it would be nice to have Sebelius explicitly come clean on the subject. It is worth noting that the Kansas Attorney General, with the Governor’s support, is investigating Tiller.

Behind the Tiller connection stands the willingness of almost all Democrats to support Planned Parenthood. Now, having never been the governor of a rural, relatively poor state like Kansas, where women’s health services are few and far between, perhaps I do not have a sufficient appreciation for the good things Planned Parenthood does. Who can object to pre-natal care? But, they continue to be so dishonest about the eugenicist views of their founder, Margaret Sanger, that I am inclined to think they still do not entirely reject those views. To be clear: Sanger praised eugenics, her views were repulsive, and shame on anyone who does not qualify their support for Planned Parenthood by stating their revulsion. It would be easier to support Sebelius if she were to make such a statement in her confirmation hearings.

Our concern in getting the history of Planned Parenthood correct is no mere historical fetish. The advent of genetic engineering holds dreadful possibilities in the next few decades. Denouncing the neo-Malthusian views of Margaret Sanger (and others, for she was not alone in supporting eugenics before Josef Mengele gave it a bad name) is important because there is still time to win the national debate about genetic engineering and the limits to be applied to it. But, not if we are falsely denouncing and misrepresenting the views of the woman who will be in a position to affect national policy in this area.

 

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 9 months ago
The Archbishop's recommendation that the Governor avoid Communion was scandalous. He has been badly advised on the law, both Canon and Constitutional. When the Governor claimed the bill she vetoed was unconstitutional, she was correct. The Church seems to be operating under the assumption that the year is 1972 and that there is actually a debate about legalizing abortion. There is not. Unless and until the United States Congress grants legal status to the unborn, they are the chattel of their mothers and any interference on their behalf violates the privacy rights of the mother. Any legislation which does not take the current state of constitutional law into account is frivolous and politically motivated. Vetoing such frivolity is not a serious matter, therefore not a mortal sin. If anything, the act of advancing this legislation is a fraud on the pro-life movement and is itself a sin. If the Archbishop had a hand in this stunt, he should be the one seeking Absolution.
8 years 9 months ago
Gabriel, Comments such as your leads some to believe that the issue of abortion is more about controling sexuality than protecting life. If the Church would start ordaining women to the priesthood, we could dispense with that notion, until then..
8 years 9 months ago
I admit to being mollified by Marie Rehbein's agreeing with me about population control. There's much guff talked about finding common ground between Pro Life and Pro Choice camps; guff because it usually comes down to patronising platitudes about single mothers and so forth. One area where a certain degree of common ground could be achieved however, is in vigorous opposition to forced abortion and sterilisation and in sharp theoretical countering of population control ideology. Pro Choicers could do worse than consult Marx, who splendidly dismissed Malthus' magnum opus as a ''libel on the human race''. In other words, Pro Choice supporters must insist on choice and cut their ties with population control anti-natalists. In Europe, socialist feminists have gone someway to doing that. I haven't seen the same progress from American liberals thus far. By that same token though, Pro Lifers must be consistent in their opposition to population control; that is they must be vigorously pro-immigrant. On this, they would do well to consult the prophet of population-growth driven economic development, Julian Simon. But more than that, Pro Lifers in the US must rediscover their left wing. They must connect their concern for unborn human life with meaningful advocacy for working class American women. An injection of radicalism into the Seamless Garment side would work wonders. To paraphrase the late British parliamentarian Ian Mikardo's words about the Labour Party: Pro Life is like a bird, it can't just fly on its right wing.
8 years 9 months ago
Methinks that Planned Parenthood's support for, and performance of abortions is also cause for revulsion.
8 years 9 months ago
You are implying that Planned Parenthood exists to forward a eugenic agenda based on views expressed by its founder in the early part of the 20th centruy when eugenics ideas were widely entertained throughout society. You might be interested in the following quote of Margaret Sanger from 1924: “At present, for the poor mother, there is only one alternative to the necessity of bearing children year after year, regardless of her health, of the welfare of the children she already has, and of the income of the family. This alternative is abortion, which is so common as to be almost universal, especially where there are rigid laws against imparting information for the prevention of conception. It has been estimated that there are about one million abortions in the United States each year. “To force poor mothers to resort to this dangerous and health destroying method of curtailing their families is cruel, wicked, and heartless, and it is often the mothers who care most about the welfare of their children who are willing to undergo any pain or risk to prevent the coming of infants for whom they cannot properly care.” I would say that this articulates Planned Parenthood's philosophy, which is focused primarily on preventing pregnancy through education and contraception. They provide abortions on the assumption that if they didn't, women would resort to extralegal abortion.
8 years 9 months ago
Perhaps because it is that I am a man that I am still surprised at the currency given to such statements as that of Margaret Sanger: “At present, for the poor mother, there is only one alternative to the necessity of bearing children year after year, regardless of her health, of the welfare of the children she already has, and of the income of the family. This alternative is abortion...". There is an alternative, and easier at that: Give up the roll in the hay. I grant that Margaret Sanger did not want to give up the roll in hay, or perhaps could not. As Thomas says [quoting Socrates] "Let us begin at the beginning".
8 years 9 months ago
Andrew Jackson sent the Native American Indians across the river because he thought this was the most humane way to save their race. The slave owner and many during the 1800's thought slavery was the most humane way to treat the African American. And Planned Parenthood thinks ''safe and legal'' abortion is the humane way to care for the poor. They also make a pretty penny on ''lifestyle'' abortions for the wealthy. I reject this notion. I choose life and won't give in to this evil.
8 years 9 months ago
Oh, by the way...in 1953, Sanger again expressed her strong support for eugenics in a letter written on International PPF letterhead to a British eugenicist. Her successor at the helm of PPF, Alan Guttmacher, was Vice President of the American Eugenics Society in the 1950s and founded the Association for the Study of Abortion in 1964. You may wish to read the chapter entitled "Birth Control" in Edwin Black's study of American Eugenics, War Against the Weak. Black clearly is a Planned Parenthood partisan who nonetheless laments Sanger's insistence on eugenic sterilization of what she once called "human weeds" even after World War II.
8 years 9 months ago
Planned Parenthood's philosophy, if that ragbag of reactionary misanthropic backward anti-natalist claptrap can be dignified with such a term, is simply this: the fewer births the better, especially when it comes to the working class and minority groups. Michael Sean Winters mentions its background in Eugenics and rightly points out that it hasn't repudiated this legacy. Far from it, in fact. International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is one of the main groups lobbying for and involved in population control. As we know, population control always involves coercion, is an abuse of human rights and invariably has racist and/or anti-working class motives and applications. And that's without having even mentioned its profoundly deleterious effects on economic growth and human progress. No one in the Western world would tolerate the imposition of a population policy. Nonetheless, IPPF not only lobbies for the US to fund China's savage one-child program, it is involved in it itself, befitting the squalid thinking of its foundress, Margaret Sanger. ''Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying ... demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism ... [Philanthropists] encourage the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant ... We are paying for, and even submitting to, the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.'' Margaret Sanger. The Pivot of Civilization, 1922. Chapter on ''The Cruelty of Charity,'' pages 116, 122, and 189. Swarthmore College Library edition.
8 years 9 months ago
This and your last several articles make clear that our bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, while well meaning, seem to have very limited political wisdom. Have Bishop Naumann and the others considered that hard-line positions almost never accomplish anything in politics? Have they considered that a Catholic in good standing as Secretary of Health and Human Services might do a lot more to reduce abortions than an agnositic? Have our Bishops considered that they might be pawns of a ''Conservative'' machine that promotes war, the death penalty, and enslavement of the poor and middle class through debt and denial of health care, while giving lip service to ending abortion? The Church used to be famous for negotiating its way through difficult times like good Romans: with the wisdom of serpents and the gentleness of doves.
8 years 9 months ago
I am dismayed at the way this governor's longstanding support of ''abortion rights'' has been rationalized by people I respect, including some of the signatories to yesterday's support letter. We are not talking here about support for Planned Parenthood, as unacceptable as that may be. We are talking about support for most notorious late-term abortion clinic in the world, a clinic which actually boasts of such grisly practices as dressing the corpses of dead babies for family photos. Clearly, Governor Sebelius is not the only politician in Kansas who has taken contributions from the owner of this clinic, nor is she the only one who has stood in the way of legislative and judicial efforts to put a stop to its operations. But she is the only one who has done those things while claiming to be a faithful Catholic. If the governor had supported a clinic whose physicians specialized in administering lethal drugs at executions, would leading advocates of Catholic social teaching be defending her fidelity to Church teaching and supporting her elevation to higher political office?
8 years 9 months ago
Marie: On October 25, 1950, well after the Nazi eugenics program's full scope was known, Margaret Sanger addressed the 30th Annual Meeting of the PPF, saying: ''The brains, initiative, thrift and progress of the self-supporting, creative human being are called upon to support the ever increasing and numerous dependent, delinquent and unbalanced masses...'' ''This twentieth century of ours has seen the most rapid multiplication of human beings in our history, quantity without quality, however...Stress quality as a prime essential in the birth and survival of our population...'' ''While our present Federal Governmental Santa Clauses have their hands in the taxpayer's pockets, why not in their generous giving mood be constructive and provide for the sterilizing ans well as giving a pension, dole - call it what you may - to the feebleminded and the victims of transmissible, congenital diseases? Such a program would be a sound future investment as well as a kindness to the couples themselves by preventing the birth of dozens of their progeny to become burdens, even criminals of another generation.''
8 years 9 months ago
Michael Sean is apparently too busy to acquaint himself with Governor Sebelius' radical pro-abortion record. Fortunately, George Weigel has compiled a comprehensive report which you can find at firstthings.com.
8 years 9 months ago
Brian, The point I am making is that the PP organization does not have a secret agenda to ''weed out'' ''low quality'' from the human population even if its founders believed such a thing could be done. PP provides birth control and abortions to women in low income communities. Do you equate low income with low quality? Having come from a low income community myself, I tend to disagree with that equation. It seems much more reasonable to interpret PP's services, particularly affordable birth control, as providing women from those areas the opportunity to build a nest before filling it. I tend to agree with Red Maria on the point that Planned Parenthood may be exploiting people's fears regarding overpopulation. There are, unfortunately, people who sincerely believe that the world is running out of room and resources who donate generously to Planned Parenthood. Opposition to Planned Parenthood has to rest on legitimate objections. Demonizing it by accusing it of carrying out a eugenic agenda only weakens legitimate opposition to what it does do and how it does it.
8 years 9 months ago
Sorry about the inverted order of comments above. 9 was written before 5, hence the "Oh, by the way..." I stay out of discussions of who is or is not a radical, but I did wish to correct the misperception that Sanger only echoed sentiments of prewar progressives. She certainly did that, but continued to endorse and encourage progressive theories regarding the selective elmination of the unwanted well after WWII.
8 years 9 months ago
I write this as a Democrat, though a disaffected one who has found some solace in the Democrats for Life of America organization. Through its admirable efforts in helping to get pro-life Democrats elected, the DFLA has shown that “pro-life Democrat” is not an oxymoron and that working to protect the most helpless among us is in fact fully consonant with the foundational principles of the Democratic Party. Powerful Catholic Democrats–e.g., Patrick Leahy, Christopher Dodd, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, and, now, HHS Secretary-designate Sebelius– are no doubt aware that their “personally opposed” political philosophy on abortion provides almost perfect political cover for opposing almost every piece of legislation that seeks to put reasonable limitations on abortion. Frankly, I would have more sympathy for what they perceive as their political predicament if they (1) were to make clear that they will reject any and all political contributions from organizations such as Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL; and (2) were to publicly state their strong support for, and their intention to work towards passage of, the Pregnant Women Support Act. Until I see movement on both of these issues, I’m afraid I’ll continue to have a jaded view of a Catholic politician who hides behind the convenient shield of “personally opposed.”
8 years 9 months ago
I also disagree with "personally opposed" for very different reasons. The attempts at political and personal aggrandizement by Republicans on this issue are scandalous and must be opposed publicly. Would that pro-choice Catholic politicians spoke clearly against such things, rather than hiding behind pluralism. Returning to the pre-Roe status quo would be as unconscionable as returning to the prohibition of alcohol or banning tobacco products (both of which take more lives every year than abortion). Overturning federal supremacy in civil rights matters, which is a goal of the conservative movement overall, even in the name of saving the unborn, would also be unconscionable. The rule of law is about how things happen, not just the result. Those who do not accept that fact should find a new issue.
8 years 9 months ago
The debate on Planned Parenthood would be relevant if Obama had nominated Margaret Sanger for the post. She is not, Governor Sebelius is. This is yet another example of a movement driven to distraction and opportunism.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Alastair Sim in the 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol” (Getty Images)
Five movies to watch this holiday season: some familiar, some unexpected.
John AndersonDecember 13, 2017
The church was once the world's greatest engine of innovation...and should be again.
Pascal-Emmanuel GobryDecember 13, 2017
The Trump administration has made clear its principles on immigration; Catholics should answer with a list of ways to reform the system with fairness and humanity.
J. Kevin ApplebyDecember 12, 2017
The establishment and free exercise clauses prohibit the government from impeding or requiring observance of any religious holiday, including Christmas.
Ellen K. BoegelDecember 12, 2017