Obama Names Abortion Extremist to HHS; Media Silent

Back during confirmation hearings in 2001 for former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson Dan Rather reminded Evening News viewers of Thompson's “hardline anti-abortion stand.”

Eight years later, there's a whitewash of President Barack Obama's HHS' nominee abortion record.

As a Democratic governor in red-state Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius has vetoed several bills that would modestly restrict abortion. She supports late-term abortion. She's socialized and taken money from well-known abortion extremists, and she has been unofficially ostracized from the Catholic Church for her stance. But you'd have to go out of your way to learn much about that from the news reports that followed the Feb. 28 announcement that Obama planned to nominate her as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This is a position that controls a $700 billion budget and, according to the New York Times, “would have considerable influence over government policy on abortion.”

NBC's David Greogory noted during the March 1 Today that Sebelius “faces some difficulty because of those anti-abortion groups,” and the on-screen graphic read, “Anti-Abortion Groups Have Vowed to Oppose Her Nomination.”

CBS correspondent Russell Pinkston reported later that same day on Evening News that, Sebelius “is not without controversy” and that she is “a Catholic who supports abortion rights, has received harsh criticism from anti-abortion groups.”

Pinkston did include footage of Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, criticizing Obama for choosing a pro-choice politician for the post of HHS Secretary.

ABC didn't mention the potential controversy at all during its reporting of Sebelius' nomination.

No network noted Sebelius' association with Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider. In May 2007, Sebelius spoke at a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. The chapter's summer 2007 newsletter related:

Friends of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri gathered Tuesday, May 15th for a truly star-studded affair. “I've Got Rhythm, I've Got Rights” showcased two champions of our cause, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and PPFA National President, Cecile Richards.

Both Cecile and Governor Sebelius spoke passionately about the challenges Planned Parenthood faces, specifically citing the more than 240 “uninvited guests” lining the streets of the Jazz District. Governor Sebelius walked right through these unpleasant protestors and didn't miss a beat. In fact, both women mentioned in their remarks how meaningful it is for supporters to experience first hand what PPKM staff and thousands of women trying to access health care must deal with on a regular basis.

Unexposed Extremism

It was only Bill O'Reilly on Fox News who discussed Sebelius' record on March 2. He reported:

[T]he governor is a controversial choice because she has opposed most restrictions on abortions even late term. And the archbishop from Kansas Joseph Naumann suggested she refrain from receiving communion as the governor's Catholic. Well, she came to our attention after accepting campaign money from George Tiller, known as Tiller, the baby killer. He's currently charged with a variety of crimes centering on his abortion practice. He aborts babies at any time for just about any reason if you pay him $5,000.

Later in the show conservative commentator Mary Katherine Ham noted, Sebelius “is pretty outside of the mainstream when it comes to parental notification, when it comes to restrictions on late-term abortions” and that Tiller “was a pretty big supporter of hers.”

Americans United for Life, a pro-life organization, posted Sebelius' veto record regarding abortion-related legislation. It includes a measure designed to reinforce existing parental notification laws through requiring identification of any adult accompanying a minor for an abortion, photo identification of the minor, a written declaration of the relationship of the adult to the minor, and the prohibition of any abortion provider aiding a minor in obtaining a judicial waiver.

As for late-term abortion laws, AUL reported that Sebelius has vetoed legislation:

    Requiring explicit medical reasons for late-term abortions;

    Requiring abortion providers to report the diagnosis or the nature of the condition which necessitated a post-viability abortion; and

    Permitting injunctive relief for either a completed or about-to-be-performed illegal late-term abortion and adding certain prosecutors (in addition to the Attorney General) to prosecute violations of existing prohibitions on late-term abortions

The AUL brief also contains this paragraph:

She has routinely opposed or vetoed several abortion-accountability bills, including medically-supported clinic regulation legislation which she vetoed in both 2003 and 2005. The need for this critical legislation was predicated, in large part, on evidence of shocking conditions in Kansas abortion clinics.  For example, two inspections of the same Topeka abortion clinic discovered fetal remains stored in the same refrigerator as food; a dead rodent in the clinic hallway; overflowing, uncovered disposal bins containing medical waste; unlabeled, pre-drawn syringes with controlled substances in an unlocked refrigerator; improperly labeled and expired medicines; carpeted floor in the surgical procedure room; and visible dirt and general disarray throughout the clinic. Dr. Krishna Rajanna, who operated the unsanitary clinic, also consistently violated the practice guidelines for conscious sedation.

Even absent the abortion controversy, the nomination to Health and Human Services Secretary of someone who declined to address such basic issues in her own state should be news. 

Sebelius' association with Tiller is equally troubling. An abortionist currently facing trial in Kansas for violating state restrictions on late-term abortions, Tiller and his wife gave Sebelius $12,450 in campaign contributions when “she was running and serving as the state's insurance commissioner,” according to a 2008 Associated Press article.  The AP was quick to note that Sebelius' did not receive campaign contributions from the Tillers for her gubernatorial campaigns, the first of which she won in 2002.

However, other reports indicate that Sebelius hosted Tiller and his staff at a reception at the governor's mansion in April 2007. The governor's spokeswoman, Nicole Corcoran, told the AP the event was “a prize at a fundraising auction for the Greater Kansas City Women's Political Caucus” and that “Governor Sebelius donates auction items like a dinner or reception to organizations whose causes she supports. We do not control who purchases it.” According to George Weigel, writing at First Things, “The equally notorious Nebraska partial-birth abortionist, LeRoy Carhart, was also at the 2007 reception, the story of which only came to light after the Associated Press invoked the Kansas Open Records Act.”

Start the Presses

Average Americans would not know about Sebelius' record if they depended solely upon mainstream news outlets for their information. Even print media, which could arguably allot more space to Sebelius' pro-abortion beliefs, chose to largely ignore them.

A Feb. 27 Associated Press headlined, “Abortion Foes Vow to Fight a Sebelius Nomination” focused almost entirely on the Tiller event and failed to bring up any of the legislation Sebelius vetoed. Based on that article, it appeared pro-lifers were upset over an isolated event that happened nearly two years ago.

USA Today failed to mention abortion at all in its March 2 coverage of Sebelius. The Washington Post downplayed her pro-abortion record. A March 1 article addressed it in the very last paragraph by saying, she “has endured fierce and often personal criticism from antiabortion activists largely because she vetoed a bill that would have required doctors who perform late-term abortions to report a reason for the procedure. After the veto, the archbishop of Kansas City asked Sebelius to stop taking Communion.”

A March 2 Washington Post article again noted Sebelius' veto for the measure that required doctors to explicitly state the reason for performing a late-term abortion and added a bit about the event attended by Tiller, but still failed to discuss more of her record.

However, The New York Times acknowledged Sebelius' radical pro-abortion record in two articles. A March 1 piece noted the Tiller event and that the governor “has repeatedly vetoed abortion regulations on legal or policy grounds.” A March 2 piece noted in the last paragraph, “she has consistently defended abortion rights in a state where the anti-abortion movement can be fierce. She has vetoed anti-abortion measures almost every year, including bills that would have required the licensing of abortion clinics and allowed relatives to petition a court to stop a late-term abortion.”

While the Times came the closest to exposing Sebelius' record, it did not adequately address the parental-notification veto. The Post, the Times and USA Today failed to address the past campaign contributions from Tiller and the parental-notification veto.

Pro-abortion groups listed Secretary of Health and Human Services as a position of interest in the wish list they sent to Obama during his transition. In the case of Sebelius, they got exactly who they wanted. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement that Sebelius “has a strong record of supporting commonsense prevention policies that improve health outcomes.”

Sebelius also has a strong record as a pro-abortion radical. But you'd never know that from the news media.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.