Catholic Kathleen Sebelius and Abortion Politics

The HHS nominee's experience shows how faith and abortion politics have been turned upside down.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

I've got a story up on usnews.com—originally published in Friday's digital U.S. News Weekly—on Kathleen Sebelius's nomination to head the Department of Health and Human Services, showing how abortion/religion politics have been turned upside down in the past five years. I compare John Kerry's failed effort to counter attacks from conservative Roman Catholics and antiabortion groups in 2004 with the successful Democratic efforts to fend off similar attacks on Sebelius:

A Democratic nominee to a national post attempts to project a culturally conservative image, claiming to be a committed Roman Catholic who personally opposes abortion. But conservative Catholic groups call that religious commitment into question. The Democrat's local bishop publicly criticizes the nominee's abortion stance, opening a gap between the purported believer and the Catholic Church. Antiabortion groups launch a campaign to show that, despite the nominee's "personal opposition" to abortion, a record of votes supporting abortion rights suggests otherwise. Can the Democratic nominee's image as a cultural moderate survive?

It depends on which Democrat you're talking about.

In 2004, John Kerry, a former altar boy, withered under attacks from conservative Catholics and antiabortion groups. He lost the Catholic vote, a dramatic turnabout from the previous Catholic nominee for president, John F. Kennedy, who won about 80 percent of Catholics.

Now comes Kathleen Sebelius, the pro-abortion rights Catholic Democrat whom Barack Obama named this week to run the Department of Health and Human Services. Early indications are she is holding up a lot better under harsh criticism from her own bishop, conservative Catholics, and antiabortion groups, who viewed her nomination as their best chance yet to throw a wrench in the White House's liberal social agenda. Instead, Republican leaders have mostly refused to attack Sebelius, even as their base vents outrage over the "pro-abortion zealot." The contrast between the Kerry and Sebelius experiences shows how the politics of abortion and religion has been turned upside down as of late. Democrats have grown increasingly savvy about navigating "values" terrain, while Republicans have gone wobbly on ground they've long held.

Read the full story at usnews.com.