- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

TOPEKA, Kan. | National pro-life groups promise a vigorous fight if President Obama nominates Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as U.S. health and human services secretary.

Abortion foes said Friday an important point of contention involves a reception Mrs. Sebelius once had with an abortionist who now faces criminal charges on accusations of violating Kansas law on late-term and partial-birth abortions.

Administration officials disputed the idea that abortion matters will have an impact on Mr. Obama’s decision to nominate Mrs. Sebelius or not. She is considered a leading candidate for the HHS job, although the White House has said others are being considered.

Abortion opponents acknowledged Friday that they probably would not be thrilled by nearly anyone Mr. Obama nominates, but they’re particularly upset by the prospect of Mrs. Sebelius.

A major reason is an event in April 2007 at the governor’s residence with Dr. George Tiller and his Wichita clinic’s staff. Abortion foes eventually obtained photos from the reception and posted them last year on the Internet.

Dr. Tiller, who is estimated to have performed about 60,000 abortions, also has given more than $10,000 under his own name to Sebelius campaigns, and an additional $10,000 under his own name to Bluestem Fund, a Sebelius-run political action committee.

Thousands of dollars have gone to both sources from other members of the Tiller family and from Womens Health Care Services, Dr. Tiller’s Wichita abortion clinic. The clinic also has donated $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association.

In May 2007, the Kansas governor appeared as a featured guest at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in Kansas City, Mo.

“This is a whole different level,” said Susan Fani, spokeswoman for the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights. “That someone who’s so radical on this issue could be chosen is mind-boggling to us.”

At the time of the reception, Dr. Tiller was under investigation by the Kansas attorney general. He’s scheduled to go to trial next month in Wichita on 19 misdemeanor charges of violating state restrictions on late-term procedures, accusations he denies.

“It’s not just that she has a pro-abortion-rights viewpoint,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and chief executive officer of Americans United for Life Action. “It’s her very close association with one of the most infamous abortionists in this country.”

Aides have downplayed the funding issue, noting that Mrs. Sebelius has not received campaign contributions directly from Dr. Tiller since September 2001, before she officially began her first campaign for governor.

Spokeswoman Beth Martino said Friday that Dr. Tiller purchased the right to attend the reception at a fundraising auction for a pro-choice group. Also, Ms. Martino noted a drop in Kansas abortions, which were 9 percent lower in 2007 than in 2002, the year before Mrs. Sebelius took office.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a health reform advocacy group supporting Mrs. Sebelius, said he doubts abortion or the Tiller reception will be major issues for Mr. Obama.

“They both believe that they want to do whatever they can to minimize abortion,” he said. “But they want to follow the rulings of the Supreme Court, and that’s the law of the land.”

Last year, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., said Mrs. Sebelius, who is Catholic, should refrain from taking Communion until she publicly repudiated her pro-choice stance on abortion. She didn’t respond publicly.

Archbishop James Keleher, that diocese’s previous bishop, asked that Mrs. Sebelius move the interfaith service associated with her inauguration from Topeka’s Assumption Catholic Church. She refused.

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