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Antiabortion Advocate Appointed to Senior Position at HHS

June 4, 2009

Washington DC – Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement today about the announcement that Alexia Kelley had been appointed to be Director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services:

The antichoice organization Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) has announced that Alexia Kelley, its co-founder and former executive director, has been appointed to be Director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services. Ms. Kelley’s appointment would be a defeat for reason and logic and calls into question whether President Obama’s administration is serious about reducing the need for abortion. And, while it may not gain many headlines, the impact and significance of this appointment should not go unnoticed.

“If Ms. Kelley had been appointed to another position in the administration, there might be less reason for concern. However, 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.

“A look into Alexia Kelley’s leadership of CACG reveals a vehement antichoice stance that is focused on reducing the number of, not the need for, abortions. In voter’s guides the organization Kelley led characterized abortion as akin to war or torture. You can learn more about Catholics in Alliance here.

“From the beginning, Alexia Kelley directed CACG to ignore the question of access to abortion and reframe the debate in terms of reducing the number of abortions—although polls consistently show that the majority of Catholics support abortion rights. This language around reducing the number of abortions should be a huge red flag to anyone who believes in and seeks to defend a woman’s right to choose. While evidence-based prevention methods can go a long way towards reducing the need for abortion, some women will always need access to safe and legal abortion and we must recognize that and ensure public policies support that access.

“Alexia Kelley is on record with her support for restrictions on access to abortion, despite her organization’s efforts to avoid the question of legalization at every turn. In an audio press conference prior to the 2008 election, Ms. Kelley agreed with other speakers who spoke out in favor of restrictions on abortion, saying, “Catholics in Alliance supports these restrictions as well.”

“Under Kelley’s leadership, CACG used flawed economic data to support anti-poverty measures as a means to reduce the number of abortions. While such measures are obviously beneficial for many reasons, poverty reduction will not by itself reduce the need for abortion. As Ms. Kelley’s group opposed evidence-based prevention methods such as contraception and comprehensive sexuality education, its “abortion reduction” rhetoric is simply a newly packaged antiabortion message.

“Rhetoric around “finding common ground” (or common good, as Ms Kelley would have it) and “reducing the need for abortion” has framed the abortion debate for the past few months. While this rhetoric and subsequent efforts may indeed help to move us past the culture wars over abortion and contraception, it is dangerous when these efforts devolve into an abandonment of ideals. In appointing an antichoice advocate to a key position in HHS we are seeing crucial principles abandoned—principles upon which so many men and women rely to lead healthy lives.”