President Obama Appoints Antiabortion Pro-Obama Catholic to Senior Health Position – Causing Controversy

Jun 8, 2009 5:54pm

President Obama has announced that Alexia Kelley, founder of the antiabortion group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, will serve as the director of the Health and Human Services Department's Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, arousing the ire of some abortion rights activists.

“Catholics in Alliance believes in the sanctity of all human life—from conception until natural death,” says the group’s website. “Our Catholic faith and the Catholic social tradition affirm that all life is sacred, and that every person has essential worth and dignity. Therefore, we support a consistent culture of life that includes protections for unborn children…”

Kelley’s appointment has revealed the chasm between what US News & World Report’s Dan Gilgoff calls “religious progressives” versus the “religious left.” (Gilgoff has a piece on this HERE.)

This won’t be a perfect description, but in the abortion debate (and there are lots of other relevant debates including war, the death penalty, and gay and lesbian rights) generally it can be described that progressives, in this construct, are those who seek the middle ground and try to work for abortion reduction. Kelley would be in this group. She opposes abortion, but she has supported politicians who support abortion rights and has supported lifting the ban on federally funding embryonic stem cell research.

The religious left is more traditionally liberal and more likely to see this “middle ground” approach as full of untenable compromises. Abortion reduction, in the view of some, is a patronizing term that implies that there’s something wrong with legal abortion, and that it’s anyone’s business but the woman in question. (Some say abortion reduction has its roots in the anti-abortion movement’s strategies of the 1990s.)

Gilgoff writes that Kelley “is certainly not a hard-core conservative.” Gilgoff says Catholics in Alliance is generally “more focused on social justice issues like fighting poverty and has promoted ways to reduce abortion that avoid curtailing abortion rights.”

Kelley advised the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and her group came under attack from the conservative Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights.

But at Salon, Frances Kissling writes that abortion rights activists want to know “why the post, which includes oversight of the department's faith-based grant-making in family planning, HIV and AIDS and in small-scale research into the effect of religion and spirituality on early sexual behavior, has gone to someone who both believes abortion should be illegal and opposes contraception. That's right — Kelley's group of self-described progressive Catholics takes a position held by only a small minority, that the Catholic church is right to prohibit birth control.”

Kissling sees the appointment as “political payback” since Kelley “provided abortion cover for the president and for candidates like Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius,” the Secretary of HHS.

Jon O’Brien, the president of an abortion-rights organization, Catholics for Choice, lambasted the appointment, saying “Alexia Kelley is on record with her support for restrictions on access to abortion, despite her organization's efforts to avoid the question of legalization at every turn.”

But Chris Korzen, the executive director of the progressive group Catholics United, said the group is “profoundly disappointed by Catholics for Choice's simplistic, incendiary, and unhelpful reaction to President Obama's appointment of Alexia Kelley to this important post. …O'Brien's statement, as well as his report attacking Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United for our own efforts to find common ground, is a roadblock to progress. It is intended as cover for Catholics for Choice's increasing irrelevance, and its inability to offer any real solutions to the challenges of our day. Despite annual expenditures of more than $3.5 million, the organization accomplishes little more than creating a hostile and divisive political climate—as evidenced by today's statement.”

Steven Waldman of Beliefnet says, "My view: if pro-choicers object to the appointment of Alexia Kelley then there's literally no kind of pro-lifer who will be acceptable. "

HHS has issued this typically soporific statement: “Alexia Kelley has worked in the faith and nonprofit community for over 15 years.  Her experience and her commitment to helping families struggling to get by in this economy will be incredibly valuable as she leads the Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership Center at HHS.”

-jpt

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