(CNSNews.com) - Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), the leading candidate to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is “the most pro-abortion governor in the country,” according to pro-lifers.
Sebelius, who is reportedly President Obama’s top choice for the position of HHS secretary, has often stirred controversy within Kansas due to her history of vetoing abortion legislation -- and her alleged connections with Wichita-based late-term abortionist George Tiller.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that she is the most pro-abortion governor in the country,” said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy analyst at Operation Rescue in Wichita.
The president’s first choice for the Cabinet position – former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle – withdrew earlier this month because of personal tax issues.
Much of the controversy surrounding Sebelius revolves around her alleged relationship with George Tiller, one of the country’s most well-known late-term abortionists.
Pro-life enthusiasts were outraged after pictures of the two surfaced from an April 2007 reception at Cedar Crest, the governor’s mansion, thanking contributors to her campaign.
“This is a man who boasts of performing over 60,000 abortions -- he claims to do 100 a week -- and who specializes in killing kids in the second and third trimester,” Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said in a statement.
The governor’s office dismissed the outrage, saying the event was a prize of a charity auction in which Tiller had been the highest bidder and the governor did not have a say in who would attend the event.
Last May, meanwhile, Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, whose archdiocese includes northeast Kansas, called on the governor to stop receiving Communion until she disowned her support for the “serious moral evil” of abortion.
In a statement released to CNSNews.com, Sebelius said that despite her personal beliefs against abortion, her role as an elected official has forced her to compromise on the issue.
“Abortion is a personal decision made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her clergy,” the governor said. “While my beliefs teach me that abortion is morally unacceptable, as a public official, I have worked hard to ensure that abortions are rare, safe, and within the bounds of the law.”
But pro-lifers say some of Sebelius’ actions as governor suggest otherwise.
In 2008, Sebelius vetoed a bill that would have strengthened the state’s ban on late-term abortions by authorizing private lawsuits against providers. The bill had passed in both Kansas legislative houses by a 2 to 1 margin.
In 2007, she vetoed a bill that was designed to require specific medical reasons for late-term abortions. The governor also vetoed abortion legislation in 2006, 2005 an 2003.
Moreover, records show that Sebelius received funds from Tiller during her campaign for and service as insurance commissioner. Between April 1994 and September 2001, Sebelius received $12,450 from Tiller, his wife, or his medical practice.
Reports have also pointed to a $120,000 contribution by Tiller to the Democratic Governors Association in 2006. The DGA has given $200,000 to the Bluestem Fund – Sebelius’ political action committee.
Christian Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, told CNSNews.com that Kansans on both sides of the aisle have been concerned with the governor’s behavior when it comes to abortion – and abortionists like Tiller.
“It's one of those things that we, as Kansans, really don't like to be talked about a whole lot, but it's needed,” he said. “People need to talk about Kathleen Sebelius' radical stances on abortion because Kathleen Sebelius isn't (just) pro-choice -- she's pro-Tiller. She's pro-abortion, and that's just the way it is.”
Some, however, say Sebelius is primarily a moderate technocrat.
Donald Haider-Markel, a public policy professor at Kansas University, said he sees the governor as “mostly moderate” on a variety of hot button issues, including abortion.
“The Legislature, of course, puts bills in front of her that she has to address,” Haider-Markel told CNSNews.com. “But for the most part, it’s not an issue that she raises herself in either direction.
“As a Democrat in a Republican state with a significant grassroots movement on social issues, she's mostly just tried to avoid the issue whenever she can. People know that she's pro-choice, but she's mostly tried to avoid the issue whenever possible.”
But Sullenger said that when it comes to abortion, the governor has been anything but moderate.
“To say that she’s moderate on abortion is like saying Stalin was moderate on communism,” she said. “It’s just a ridiculous statement.”
Haider-Markel, meanwhile, attributed Sebelius' success – first, as state insurance commissioner running for statewide office, and as a twice-elected governor -- in part to being able to keep from taking sides on controversial issues.
Sebelius’ office pointed to a number of health care initiatives it said the state has taken during her tenure, including her Healthy KIDS program -- which pays 90 percent of the health care premiums for children of low-income state employees, a plan that was expected to cover more than 2,000 children.
In 2005, her aides say, the governor doubled tax credit for small businesses providing health coverage to their employees, allowing the state to rank first in employer health care affordability later that year.
Even the GOP’s Morgan said Sebelius’ track record suggests she would pursue appropriate health care for Americans – especially children.
But Morgan said he worries how the governor’s stances on abortion would affect her policy as a Cabinet member.
“I don’t doubt that Kathleen Sebelius believes that once people are born, they should be given whatever health care this nation offers,” Morgan said. “The problem with Kathleen Sebelius is it requires somebody to be born before she gives a damn about them.
“I think it’s interesting that she’s getting ready to take the lead at something called ‘health and human services’ and it’s arguable what her definition of human is,” he added.
Haider-Markel, meanwhile, said Sebelius’ biggest drawback may be the fact that she is “not seen as a strong leader.”
“She doesn’t really get out in front of issues, whether it be abortion or trying to provide some type of universal healthcare coverage as being issues that she has to face,” he added.
“Part of the problem that she would have is that she’s not really the kind of politician that gets out in front of issues and brings other people to her position,” he said. “Daschle had those qualities. I’d be hard-pressed to say Sebelius has those qualities.”