President Obama has appointed Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), to head the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services. Kelley is a leading proponent of "common ground" abortion reduction -- only CACG's common ground is at odds with that of Obama. While the administration favors reducing the need for abortion by reducing unintended pregnancies, Kelley has made clear that she seeks instead to reduce access to abortion. That is an extremely disturbing development, especially coming this week in the wake of George Tiller's assassination.
Under George W. Bush, the faith-based centers didn't play a policy role. But Obama has expanded the faith-based project to include a policy side, and one of its chief goals is to reduce the need for abortion. I have opposed this, because reproductive health is a public health, not a religious issue. Also problematic: It is counterproductive for Obama to appoint someone who disagrees with the administration's stance. Obama finds himself now in the difficult position of having elevated the importance of religion to making policy, and having appointed a religious figure whose opinions on policy conflict with his.
Kelley and CACG have made clear they are committed to Catholic doctrine on abortion and birth control. CACG has supported the Pregnant Women's Support Act, aimed at stigmatizing abortion and making it less accessible. In discussing legislation on reducing the need for abortion, Kelley has written that various pieces of legislation concerned with women's health "are not all perfect; some include contraception -- which the Church opposes." Never mind that more than 90 percent of American Catholics use it anyway.
As Catholics for Choice points out in its press release criticizing the pick, "the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for providing and expanding access to key sexual and reproductive health services. As such, we need those working in HHS to rely on evidence-based methods to reduce the need for abortion. We need them to believe in men's and women's capacity to make moral decisions about their own lives. Unfortunately, as seen from her work at CACG, Ms. Kelley does not fit the bill."
In a 2008 press teleconference co-sponsored by CACG and Sojourners, Kelley stated that she supported state-imposed restrictions on abortion, such as waiting periods and informed consent. In her 2008 book, A Nation for All, co-written with Chris Korzen, Kelley wrote, "Each abortion constitutes a direct attack on human life, and so we have a special moral obligation to end or reduce the practice of abortion to the greatest extent possible."
Despite this inflammatory language, Kelley has positioned herself as above the fray of the "culture wars." While she believes making abortion illegal is the best solution, she recognizes that perhaps restricting abortion in other ways is more practical. In A Nation for All, she continued, "Culture warriors in America will argue that to be pro-life, we must ensure that the unborn are protected under the law. This would indeed be an ideal situation. But legal status doesn't always realize the goal that we desire."
CACG did not issue any public statements about the Tiller assassination, though it signed one by Faith in Public Life condemning the murder. But the statement did not condemn the inciting rhetoric of the anti-choice movement. Rather, it made a kumbaya plea for common ground (which as we have seen, is not so common after all).
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