Bush's HHS Choice Irks Abortion Supporters and Opponents Alike

July 7, 2008 - 8:27 PM

(CNSNews.com) - President-elect George W. Bush's selection of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson to lead the Health and Human Services department has been met with opposition from both sides of the abortion debate.

Calling the secretary of the HHS Department the "cabinet member most able to affect women's reproductive freedom," the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League said Bush's choice is indicative of the future administration's intent to "do away with a woman's right to choose."

Some abortion opponents are also unhappy with Thompson's record of support for scientific research using fetal tissue and claim he is "not pro-life."

Thompson "praised the scientist who developed the gruesome technique of dissecting embryonic human persons in their earliest stages of development," the American Life League charged. The scientist the group referred to is Dr. James A. Thomson of the University of Wisconsin.

Thomson, the AFL said, "engages in the mutilation and killing of human persons in their embryonic stage for the purpose of advancing human stem cell research."

AFL's president could not be reached for further comment, but Gov. Thompson, during a Friday morning press conference, claimed he was "absolutely passionate" about "biotechnology and scientific research."

Other pro-life organizations are not so critical of the Bush nominee's stance on research. Instead, the Family Research Council praised Thompson for his "wealth of experience" and "track record of achievement in the pro-life arena."

"Ethical standards regarding human embryo research remains an issue we look forward to working with the new secretary of health and human services," the FRC said.

National Right to Life officials also welcomed Thompson, citing his 14 years as governor - during which he approved various pro-life bills, banned partial-birth abortions, and oversaw a parental notification law and woman's right-to-know bill - as evidence of his pro-life beliefs.

As the country's lead figure on health matters, Thompson will be responsible for overseeing more than 300 wellness-related programs, including those associated with food and drug safety, child support enforcement, medical and social science research, and substance abuses and treatments.

HHS, according to its own Internet site, is the "largest grant-making agency in the federal government, providing some 60,000 grants per year."

Spokespersons for Planned Parenthood Federation of America did not return a telephone call for comment about Thompson, but recognized the importance of the HHS secretary's job on their Internet site.

The HHS secretary has the position with "potentially the greatest impact on women's reproductive freedoms," according to Planned Parenthood, because the secretary directly manages the allotment of Title X family planning funds.

"While the Clinton Administration secured a $24 million increase in Title X funding for the fiscal year 2000, the program is still under-funded. An anti-choice HHS secretary could ... [fail] to fund the program or [reallocate] funds to abstinence-only programs," Planned Parenthood reported.

Title X dollars, according to the HHS department, cannot be used to fund family planning programs that include abortion as an option. HHS does indicate a loophole, however, stating that current laws do not prohibit taxpayer money from being used in areas that have "only a possibility of encouraging or promoting abortion."