Faith-based Stimulus and HHS

With all the out-of-business signs popping up everywhere you look lately, who would have thought that the Office of Faith-based Initiatives is not only thriving, but has relocated to Health and Human Services.

Lost in the shuffle of manufactured controversy over the Sotomayor confirmation is another important nomination. Alexia Kelley, co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and considered by some to be a "dissident Catholic," is President Obama's pick to head the "faith office" at HHS, which raises the question--why do we need a "faith office" at HHS in the first place?

There are some who suggest quid pro quo -- Ms. Kelley, a loyal Obama supporter, has been repaid in kind with this nomination -- but is this not more a case of quo than quid. Status quo, that is.

Clearly, the president is trying to appease the religious right and, at the same time, balance out his own pro-choice agenda with this nomination. But, what happens to a ship, or airplane, when all of the weight is moved to the center -- it sinks faster.

It would appear that Obama's gift of a stimulus package to faith-based groups, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is baggage left over from the Bush years. Yet, once again, we must stand by and watch science and medical mandates placed in the hands of those whose primary identity is inseparable from their religious affiliation.

In fairness, Ms. Kelley has said her goal is not to eliminate abortion, per se, nor would she work with those who wish to overturn Roe v. Wade. That said, the group she co-founded solidly opposed choice, and her advocacy of what she calls "abortion reduction" makes one shudder at the thought of a possible quota of allowed procedures for federally funded clinics. After all, the former faith-based group, along with their chieftain, George W. Bush, denied tax dollars to any federally funded clinic that did not promote abstinence-only education.

Ms. Kelley is also said to oppose contraception, and may indeed be among those trying to convince themselves, and the rest of us, that life begins not only at conception, but at the moment of penetration.

That Obama's HHS nominee has aligned herself with traditional Catholicism in opposing the use of contraception may be all well and good, in theory, but when one considers that the use of condoms not only prevents pregnancy, it also radically reduces the spread of HIV/AIDS, this position is untenable, and runs counter to the fundamental purpose of Health and Human Services, which is to promote policies that advance human survival.

There are some who would argue she is following the centrist lead of her boss who has said his objective is to reduce the number of abortions, and provide women with alternatives to terminating pregnancy. But, in light of the last week's murder of a Kansas late abortion doctor, she may find herself having to jump the fence, and choose allegiances -- either to her president, or her Pope. Is this the kind of decision the founders had in mind when they opted for separation of church and state?

Yes, it's true that the group she founded, CACG, drew contempt from the Catholic hierarchy by suggesting that ending poverty is as much a moral issue as ending abortion, but Catholics in Alliance also says it is opposed to choice, and offers the church a firm handshake on the abstinence issue.

If Kelley thinks her views of reducing the number of abortions while, simultaneously, opposing contraception, may be viewed as the politics of "common ground," it is clearly not that of common sense. The notion of working to limit the number of abortions is nothing more than a veiled, and failed, attempt to eliminate abortion altogether. What's more, we in the U.S., need to concern ourselves more with weight reduction than abortion reduction.

With the savage killing of abortion providers, George Tiller being only the latest, we are slowly coming to see that there can be no middle ground in the choice debate. Ms. Kelley, and anyone else who holds a government post entrusted with the health, and safety, of our citizens, must not be allowed to carry baggage from an administration that put ideology above public health. One has only to witness the horrific escalation of HIV/AIDS cases in our nation's capital to see the consequences of those who claim the moral high ground by refusing to make contraception available to all.

We must seriously question not merely conflict of interest, but whether a so-called faith office belongs in a secular institution, and whether this office should be among those receiving a government stimulus.