Sebelius confirmation hearings see little focus on abortion record

.- Yesterday Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius fielded questions about her plans for medical health care reform, but received only question from a senator about her positions on abortion.

Many pro-life groups have protested Catholic Governor Sebelius’ nomination as the Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, including Catholics against Sebelius.  They said that they were disappointed by the lack of difficult questions asked of the Governor.

Wyoming Senator Michael Enzi, one of the Senators who didn't question Sebelius on abortion, said "I am and will remain staunchly pro-life, and will advocate for the lives of the unborn," but that he preferred to focus on health care reform instead of talking about abortion.

Despite having several other pro-life senators, including Catholic Senator Bob Casey, on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, only Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn questioned Sebelius about her views on abortion and President Obama’s plan for reproductive rights reform.

Coburn expressed his concern that Sebelius’ past support for abortion and Obama’s comments about supporting the Freedom of Choice Act would erode his right as a doctor, “As a pro-life obstetrician, I feel I have a constitutional right to have those protections as I practice medicine.”

Even though the Obama Administration has moved to modify or dispense with the recently enacted conscience protection statues, Sebelius said that Obama supports a “clearly defined conscience clause for providers and institutions,” without providing any specificity.

Referring to the HHS regulations enacted by the Bush Administration to protect health care workers, she said, "I don't think from the discussions that I've had that there is any intention of interfering with the underlying legal basis."

Coburn also asked Sebelius if the Obama Administration plans to amend Medicaid rules  so that RU-486 is classified as an “emergency contraceptive” and thus no longer subject to Hyde Amendment restrictions that prevent taxpayer dollars from funding abortion.

"Can you give us an assurance that that won't be changed or are there plans to change that?" Sen. Coburn asked.

Gov. Sebelius replied, "As far as i know, there are no plans, I certainly have had no discussions with anyone about changing that policy." "Again, I am not confirmed as secretary, I haven't had those discussions," she added.

In an attempt to moderate the perception of her abortion views, Sebelius also argued that she has always supported a “conscience clause” and pointed toward the fact that one remained in place in Kansas during her time as governor.

Sebelius’ confirmation hearings will continue Thursday morning.

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