This week Governor Kathleen Sebelius appeared before two Senate
Committees in hearings to determine whether she will become Secretary of Health
and Human Services. In doing so, she garnered bipartisan support for her
appointment. Many see her, as I do, as being superbly qualified to lead HHS in
a time when the nation is facing a myriad of challenging health care issues in
these troubling economic times.
Following her nomination several weeks ago, a few members of the
Catholic hierarchy and their ultra-conservative allies were critical of
Governor Sebelius, a Catholic, for her prochoice views. We are heartened
that her Catholic social justice beliefs have guided her to protect the moral
capacity of people to make sound decisions about their lives and note that at
the center of this social justice tradition that we share with her the
preferential option for the poor, a belief that we must never ignore the needs
of those struggling to provide for their families. It is also worth reminding
these critics, and ourselves, that this is what 53 percent of the American
electorate and 54 percent of American Catholics voted for last November.
It is also important to remind critics that, while their primary focus
may be on the issue of abortion, most Catholic voters do not consider abortion
to be a top priority. A poll conducted by Catholics for Choice in the
lead up to the 2008 election showed that Catholic voters place much greater
priority on the bread-and-butter issues. Across the board, Catholic
voters named improving the economy (68%) and protecting the US from terrorism (54%) as top
priorities, while protecting a woman’s right to choose was towards the
bottom of the priority list (18%).
These numbers show us that it is time to move on from the culture wars
over abortion and contraception. The Prevention Not Prohibition campaign
of Catholics for Choice was initiated to do just that. Speaking for
Catholics and for the majority of all people throughout the country, the
campaign seeks to uplift prevention efforts in order to reduce unintended
pregnancies and the need for abortion.
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It is important to note that the goal of prevention efforts should be to
reduce the need, not the number of abortions. This is a critically important
distinction. Holistic prevention efforts address all the factors under which
women decide to terminate pregnancies. These needs, like access to health care
and affordable child care, should be addressed by a society that supports
women, children and families. Those who speak of reducing the number of
abortions seek to decide for women instead of letting women decide when to
terminate or continue a pregnancy.
It is time to end the childish, petty name-calling that has
characterized this debate as seen in the nomination of Governor Sebelius.
Rather than seeking to present reproductive health as a distraction from the
real issues of the day, we need to emphasize that these services are an
integral part of providing for the needs of families. It is in economically
tough times such as these that access to these services become more difficult
for many people–not just those who have lost their jobs, but also those whose
hours have been cut and those who live from paycheck to paycheck at the best of
times. Keeping these women, men and families in mind, we look forward to the
confirmation of Governor Sebelius’s nomination by the Senate in the
upcoming weeks, and to working with her and the department to further expand
access to comprehensive health care services, including reproductive care.