Do Republicans really want to oppose Sebelius over abortion?

This might be a case of CNN predicting a fight that won’t take place, but conservatives and Republicans are crazy if they pick this fight now.

Analysts suspected that Obama would face a battle over abortion if and when he makes a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, but religious conservatives could use Sebelius as a warm-up for the seemingly inevitable fight.

Calling Sebelius an “enemy of the unborn,” Catholic League President Bill Donohue said the Kansas governor’s nomination is particularly disturbing because the health and human services secretary is one of the few members of the administration who can directly affect abortion policy.

“Sebelius’ support for abortion is so far off the charts that she has been publicly criticized by the last three archbishops of Kansas City,” Donohue said in a statement. Video Watch why filling the Cabinet post is urgent task ยป

The liberal group Catholics United has come to Sebelius’ defense, saying the Kansas governor has taken several steps to lower the abortion rate in her state. The group also has posted excerpts of a 2006 speech in which Sebelius said she opposed abortion.

“My Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred, and personally I believe abortion is wrong,” she said then. “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.”

In May, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, said that Sebelius’ stance on abortion had “grave spiritual and moral consequences.” He asked that Sebelius no longer receive Communion until she repudiated her stance and made a “worthy sacramental confession.”

Naumann was reacting to Sebelius’ veto of state Senate Bill 389 and the subsequent House version, titled the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, either of which would have tightened abortion regulations in Kansas.

In shooting down SB 389 in April, Sebelius wrote that the bill was problematic because it included no exceptions for pregnancies that endanger a woman’s life and it allowed for individuals to seek court orders preventing a woman from obtaining an abortion, even if the procedure was necessary to save her life.

“I am concerned that the bill is likely unconstitutional, or even worse, endangers the lives of women,” Sebelius said in a statement.

She further said that Kansas had striven to lower its abortion rates through adoption incentives, extended health services for pregnant women, sex education and support services for families.

Another lightning rod for Sebelius is a 2007 reception she held for Dr. George Tiller at the governor’s mansion in Topeka. Tiller, who specializes in late-term abortions and who once received the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, is presently facing charges relating to his practice.

Last month, a district judge denied a motion to dismiss the case, meaning Tiller will go to trial on 19 misdemeanor counts relating to how he procured second opinions for late-term abortions, according to The Wichita Eagle.

Though Sebelius is dogged by many on the religious right, GOP Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts of Kansas seem willing to give her a pass on her stance on abortion.

Brownback, who sought the GOP presidential nomination and is one of the leading anti-abortion voices in the Senate, recently released a statement with Roberts, congratulating Sebelius and expressing an eagerness to work with their fellow Kansan on health issues.

The reactions from Brownback and Roberts suggest that cooler heads will prevail, and that we won’t get a sideshow on abortion at a time when both sides will be debating health care reform.


McCain says life begins at conception

John McCain’s simple statement at Saddlebrook might open up a can of worms for him in the general election on the issue of abortion. He clearly placated conservatives with his answer, but it also brings up a host of issues regarding brith control and abortion that he may not want to get into.

As I mentioned before, his clear statement will potentially turn off thousands of independent pro-choice women.

But, as Nancy Gibbs points out in Time, McCain will now have to answer very complicated questions about birth control and stem-cell research that are raised by his bright-line definition. As we’ve seen, McCain is terrible on domestic issues when he needs to get into the details. He often contradicts himself, and he’s not very good at nuance in these areas. The abortion mine field could be a huge problem for him in the fall.

Of course, Obama will face his own issues on abortion, which may hurt him with Catholics and Reagan Democrats. He can only hope that McCain creates his own problems with this issue as well.


Rick Warren’s forum

Both Barack Obama and John McCain did well in Rick Warren’s forum, though McCain was clearly a crowd favorite as he was able to repeat conservative talking points to a mostly conservative crowd. He’s also no longer shy about discussing his time as a POW and he took many opportunities to bring that up. Obama also received plenty of applause, but he had to deal with questions on issues where he disagreed with evangelicals.

Warren had some interesting questions, but he never asked a follow-up question. If he asked a tough question, each candidate could say whatever they liked, because Warren didn’t want to play “gotcha.” In one sense that made it a civil conversation, but both candidates were able to say things without any fear of having the questioner challenge them, and that led to “stump speech” answers that weren’t very enlightening. McCain was able to ham it up with the conservative audience and basically tell them what they wanted to hear.

It will be interesting to see how this plays. Obama came across as thoughtful, but McCain really used it as a campaign event to beef up support with evangelicals. He probably scored points with conservatives, though independents might have been turned off by some of his answers. He drew a very hard line on abortion, which might hurt him with independent women.


Ballot initiatives break against conservatives

Last night on MSNBC, Pat Buchanon argued that the voters were rejecting the GOP but were supporting socially conservative ballot initiatives. It turns out he spoke to soon. Conservatives suffered significant defeats in South Dakota, Missouri and Arizona.

In conservative South Dakota, the voters overwelmingly rejected a ban on all abortions by a 55-45 margin. This is a huge loss for cultural conservatives and a significant win for liberals and for libertarians. This, coupled with the outrage over the Terry Schiavo fiasco, makes it clear that most voters do not want government officials intruding into their personal lives. The social conservatives have reached too far. Hopefully Republicans will pay attention and start moving back towards the middle on social issues. As for Democrats, hopefully they will develope a backbone on these social issues. Their unwillingness to stand up to the Republicans during the Terry Schiavo controversy was shamefull.

Missouri provided the next big win for liberals by passing the stem-cell research initiative. This has become a huge wedge issue for Democrats. Hopefully this vote, along with the gains by Democrats in the House and the Senate, will lead to passage of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research with margins sufficient to override a veto by President Bush.

Finally, Arizona is the first state to reject a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The proposed amendment would have also banned civil unions. Again, many voters apparantly believed that the social conservatives went to far. A wide majority of Americans oppose gay marriage, but more and more Americans are open to the concept of protecting legal rights for civil unions.


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