The Evangelical Left’s Abortion Conundrum



Members of the Evangelical Left (identified in the press release) affirmed Governor Kathleen Sebelius’ (D-KS) appointment as the Health & Human Services Secretary earlier this month.  This pro-Sebelius effort  was organized by Faith in Public Life which is a forum mainly for liberal Protestants.  They say that she is good for common ground on abortion.  The press release went on:

As Christians dedicated to finding common ground solutions to reduce the number of abortions in America, we welcome President Obama’s nomination of Governor Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Under Governor Sebelius’ leadership, abortions have decreased in Kansas by 10 percent, adoption funding and incentives have increased, healthcare access for women and families has expanded, prenatal care has become more widely available, and legislation protecting the unborn from crime has become law. Such a record demonstrates a commitment to results rather than rhetoric on life issues.

She is a Democratic Governor who has been elected by wide margins in a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats two to one. Her nomination has already won not only the support of Democrats, but also praise from Republican pro-life Senators such as Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts and Governors such as Sonny Perdue of Georgia. Her record and her relationships with leaders in both parties are proof that pro-choice and pro-life leaders can work together to advance a pro-family agenda.

This seems overly enthusiastic, and then there are some problems within this press release.  First with the abortion decrease claim (an argument made by Catholics United) being attributed to Sebelius.  Michael J. New, assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama wrote:

However, this abortion reduction argument put forth by Catholics United is problematic for several reasons.  First and foremost, abortion statistics from Kansas are among the least reliable in the country. Between 1979 and 1987 data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment indicate that the number of abortions performed in Kansas fell by almost 50 percent. Then between 1987 and 1992 the number of abortions suddenly increased by 73 percent. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment states that these sharp fluctuations are partly due to changes in reporting and not the actual incidence of abortion. Furthermore, according to data from the CDC, 40 percent of Kansas abortions are performed on out of state residents, which is one of the highest figures in the country.

Even if one takes the recent Kansas abortion statistics at face value, there still exist problems with the analysis put forth by Catholics United.  Sebelius took office in January 2003. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the number of abortions did decline by about 7 percent between 2003 and 2007. However, this is consistent with a long term decline in the incidence of abortion in Kansas. Data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment indicates that the number of abortions declined by 6 percent between 1999 and 2003.

Furthermore, when discussing this abortion decline it is unfortunate, but unsurprising, that Catholics United makes no mention of the Casey style “Women’s Right to Know Bill” which took effect in Kansas in 1997. This bill gives women seeking abortions information on fetal development, health risks involved with abortion, and public and private sources of support for single mothers. My research indicates that these laws have been effective at reducing abortion rates in other states. Furthermore, Catholic United does not mention the increased scrutiny given to late term abortionist George Tiller by both former Attorney General Phill Kline and Operation Rescue.

So first off there was no 10% decline, and this decline started before Sebelius ever took office.  This declines seems to be a result of good, common-sense pro-life legislation passed in the 90s.

The second problem I have is with their touting her record of promoting pro-life policies (adoption, etc.) and to be fair she has signed some pro-life legislation into law.  Americans United for Life takes a detailed look at her record on abortion, both good and bad.  The press release while mentioning the good, neglects the bad and the ugly such as:

  • Routinely opposing or vetoing several abortion-accountability bills.
  • Vetoing a measure in 2008 that would have strengthened the state’s parental notification law.
  • Continued and unyielding support for late-term abortions including post-viability abortions.
  • Honoring George Tiller, a late-term abortionist who is facing criminal prosecution for 19 counts of illegally performing late-term abortions.
  • Appointment of radical abortion supporters to important state positions.

Also her signing “legislation protecting the unborn from crime” as this press release indicates doesn’t provide the whole story.  AUL notes:

Gov. Sebelius has a long history of opposing this legislation.  She finally signed it after it was attached to a crime bill that she wanted and after significant pressure from the media and the family of a young woman killed in a murder for hire scheme while she was 8 months pregnant.

Regarding her election and re-election in Kansas… I’m not going to speculate on Kansas politics.  I am quite sure, however, that while Kansas may be a red state, the Republican Party of Kansas is not know to be overtly conservative.  With Senator Brownback’s endorsement I think that is a case of political pragmatism than it is an actual endorsement.  I’m not sure why Roberts endorsed her.  I’m disappointed with both men.  I would hardly equate those endorsements with praise, nor see it as proof that pro-life and pro-choice legislators can work together on the abortion issue.

Mark Tooney writing for the American Spectator on Tuesday noted the hurdle that the evangelical left faces.

Liberal pro-Obama evangelicals face the same conundrum as pro-Obama Catholics, having to argue that politicians who vigorously support abortion rights will still somehow facilitate a reduction in overall abortion rates.

I still don’t see how that is possible, especially in light of the expansion we’ve seen thus far with the Obama administration.  Surely pro-life legislators can and should work with pro-choice legislators and in unison with the Obama administration where there is agreement.  I just think the evangelical left’s assertion that Obama and Sebelius’ both work toward abortion reductions is fundamentally flawed and not supported by the facts – as some are finding out.

Update: Welcome readers from The Point!

2nd Update: Also linked at Tangents ‘n Tidbits, thanks!

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  • David Keys

    Good analysis! Right on.

  • http://caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

    Thanks!

  • http://purecommonsense.net Mike Casey

    Good investigation in this post – a real eye-opener!

  • http://caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

    Thanks Mike!

  • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

    Which “pro-life” senators have come out in opposition to her appointment? I googled and could not find anything. Here is their chance to take a stand.. do you think they will?

    I guess I am not too concerned about the Evangelical Left.. at least you know where they stand. I am more concerned with the Evangelical Right.. of which I believe Brownback is a member.. these folks just provide lip service to unborn babies.

    Finally, it is good to remember that these folks (left and right) seem to be politicians first.. that is the real issue.

  • http://caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

    That is true. Obviously they can't block every appointment, but there are some where they needed to fight vigorously. This is one. Geithner was another. The DOJ appointments are another example.